Local March 5, 2014 | 10:12 am

U.S. agents seize 1,103K cocaine off Puerto Rico coast, 2 Dominicans held

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico.- U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and US Coast Guard (USCG) assets intercepted a vessel Monday evening attempting to smuggle 38 bales of cocaine, totaling 2,432 pounds (1,103 kilos), with an approximated street value of $27.5 million, south of the city of Ponce in the southern coast of the island. Two men were arrested and a two-engine vessel was seized.

U.S. Magistrate Camille L. Vélez-Rivé authorized a complaint charging Gregorio Rodríguez and Englis Pérez with conspiracy to import controlled substances, announced Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico.

Near midnight, a USCG Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) requested assistance from a CBP Office of Air and Marine (OAM) MPA to maintain surveillance of a center console vessel, of approximately 40ft in length with two outboard engines and two subjects onboard, traveling northbound and without navigation lights. . The vessel maintained a northern course through the Caribbean Sea en-route towards the southern coast of Puerto Rico.

The MPA maintained constant surveillance of the vessel as CBP Ponce Marine Units were recalled to respond and intercept the vessel for further inspection.

A CBP Marine Unit reached the go-fast vessel intercepting, south of Ponce, Puerto Rico, finding two individuals on board who claimed to be citizens of the Dominican Republic, along with visible bales that later tested positive to cocaine.

“The collaborative operations and partnerships under CBIG always yield positive results to stop smuggling ventures,” stated Johnny Morales, Director of Air Operations for CBP’s Caribbean Air and Marine Branch (CAMB).

Custody of the two individuals on board, the narcotics and the vessel were transferred over to Special Agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) for further investigation and prosecution.

On Saturday CBP and USCG seized 750 pounds (340.194 kilos) of marijuana, worth approximately $1.8 million also near the islands’ southern coast.

If convicted, the defendants could face from 10 years up to life in prison. A criminal complaint contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. Defendants are presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty

The Office of Air and Marine (OAM) is the world’s largest aviation and maritime law enforcement organization, and is a critical component of CBP’s layered enforcement strategy for border security. OAM is uniquely positioned to provide direct air and maritime support to multiple agencies and to ensure the success of border protection and law enforcement operations between ports of entry, within the maritime operating areas and within the nation’s interior.

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