News Release
February 28, 2007
Contact: Waldo Santiago
Number: 800-718-0781

DEA Seizes 871 Pounds of Cocaine and 270 Pounds of Heroin
Worth Over $14 Million

DEA Lead Multi Agency Operation Results in Largest Heroin Seizure Recorded in Puerto Rico

FEB 28 -- SAN JUAN, P.R. – Jerome M. Harris, Special Agent in Charge of the Caribbean Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) , announced today the seizure of approximately 871 pounds of cocaine and 270 of heroin, the largest recorded seizure of heroin in the District of Puerto Rico, in a multi-agency operation directed by the DEA.

“This seizure is yet another success for the Caribbean Corridor Initiative, a DEA lead federal multi-agency strike force focusing on the disruption of maritime drug trafficking in the Caribbean. By successfully intercepting this enormous amount of illegal drugs on the high seas, we prevent this poison from being spread thought-out Puerto Rico and further transported and distributed in the Continental U.S.” said DEA Special Agent In Charge Jerome M. Harris.

On February 23, 2007, the crew of a U.S. Coast Guard’s Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) helicopter deployed aboard the USCG Cutter Northland, along with a USCG Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) aboard the Dutch naval vessel Zuiderkruis, intercepted a 40-foot, go-fast vessel, in high seas, 92 miles north of Venezuela. The fast boat was intercepted after it failed to heave-to upon being ordered to stop by the HITRON helicopter crew. The master of the vessel claimed that the vessel was of Venezuelan registry; however, Venezuelan authorities denied that claim. After successfully bringing the go-fast to a halt through warning shots and disabling fire to the vessel's engines, the USCG LEDET boarding team conducted a required inspection of the boat, which revealed 14 bales of cocaine and 4 bales of heroin with an approximate weight of 871 pounds and 270 pounds respectively. The drugs have an estimated street value of approximately $14 million. This heroin seizure is the largest recorded heroin seizure in the District of Puerto Rico.

The crew of USCG Cutter Northland yesterday transferred the approximately 871 pounds of cocaine, 270 pounds of heroin, and six suspected smugglers to federal agents of the Caribbean Corridor Initiative at the USCG Base San Juan. DEA and the other federal law enforcement agents, working under the Caribbean Corridor Initiative, arrested Colombians Oscar Mesa Zambrano, 57, and Javier Mitchell Hunter, 44; Venezuelans, Pedro Safir Beltran Zapata, 59, Gabriel Zarate Ramirez, 22, and Jose Fonseca Ineduar Ramirez, 24; and Dominican, Francisco Nueci Pena, 38. All arrested crewmembers are in U.S. Marshals Service custody awaiting the outcome of their criminal case after being charged with violations of the Controlled Substances Act. While the Northland was on its way to the base it encountered another fast boat that attempted to elude the cutter. The USCG HITRON helicopter crew disabled the engines and rescued five people that were onboard the fast boat. The Captain of the vessel failed to abide by Federal Regulations when attempting to outrun the cutter. All five crewmembers were detained and were also transported the base for questioning and processing

The Caribbean Corridor Initiative, a federal multi-agency strike force focusing on the disruption of maritime drug-trafficking in the Caribbean, consists of members from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, Coast Guard Investigative Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, Federal Bureau of Investigations and the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The United States Coast Guard's HITRON Jacksonville, Fla. is America's first and only airborne law-enforcement unit trained and authorized to employ Airborne Use of Force. HITRON is charged with conducting two missions; interdicting and stopping suspected drug-laden, high-speed vessels known as 'go-fasts,' and Ports. The Northland is a 270-foot medium endurance cutter home ported in Portsmith, Virginia.

The public is reminded that a criminal complaint is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial. The U.S. government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Caribbean Corridor Coordinator, Assistant United States Attorney Timothy R. Henwood from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico, is prosecuting the case.