News Release
May 21, 2007

DEA Seizes 1,056 Pounds of Cocaine and Arrests 3 Drug Smugglers in International Waters Near the Hispaniola
Joint Operation Rum Punch - Caribbean Corridor Initiative Investigation Disrupt
South America - Hispaniola Air Smuggling Bridge

MAY 21 -- SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Jerome M. Harris, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Caribbean Division and the Rosa E. Rodriguez, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, announced today the seizure of over ½ ton of cocaine and the arrest of three (3) suspected drug smugglers in international waters south of the Dominican Republic. The individuals arrested were: Epifanio Matos-Luchi, Ramon Carrasco-Carrasco and Manolo Soto, all citizens of the Dominican Republic. These arrests and seizure are the result of a multi-agency, multi-nation international effort under the Caribbean Corridor Initiative in Puerto Rico and DEA’s Operation Rum Punch in the Dominican Republic.

On May 12, 2007 the Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S) detected a suspicious air track with their Re-locatable Over the Horizon Radar (ROTHR) originating in South America, heading toward the Island of the Hispaniola. Immediately the JIATF-S coordinated an end-game response with the DEA Caribbean Division Santo Domingo Dominican Republic’s Operation Rum Punch assets based in the Dominican Republic and at the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air Unit in Aguadilla, PR and the Caribbean Corridor Initiative’s (CCI) DEA Seaport Task Force investigators in Puerto Rico. The CBP Air Unit launched a Customs High Endurance Tracker (CHET) aircraft to intercept the suspicious air track. The CHET intercepted and identified the air track as a twin-engine aircraft. The CHET crew observed and video recorded the twin-engine as it doped several bales to a waiting yola boat whose crew was retrieving the bales from the water.

A British Navy aircraft launched form the British Navy’s HMS Ocean, which was supporting DEA Operation Rum Punch, spotted the yola. The yola crew started jettison the bales back into the water and escaped towards the Dominican Republic. A British Navy Sea King helicopter, launched form the HMS Ocean, retrieved 12 bales floating in the water. The bales later where found to contain approximately 1,056 pounds of cocaine. Agents from the Dominican Republic’s Direccion Nacional de Control de Drogas (DNCD) and from the DEA Santo Domingo Country Office, supporting Operation Rum Punch, arrested the smugglers as they came ashore. The Dominican authorities turned over the smugglers to the DEA Caribbean Division CCI Seaport Task Force. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Puerto Rico charged the smugglers with violation of Title 46 U.S. Code, Section 70503: Possession of controlled substances in international waters and Title 18 U.S. Code, Section 2: Aiding and Abetting. The defendants and the contraband where brought to Puerto Rico, the nearest U.S. Port of Entry, by the United States Coast Guard and appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge on duty. The defendants where remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshal Service pending preliminary hearing. 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.

Operation Rum Punch is a DEA Caribbean Division bi-national multi agency operation to provide end game-capability in the Island of The Hispaniola to disrupt and stop the illegal air drug smuggling bridge from South America. Operation Rum Punch brings together the Dominican Republic’s DNCD, the Haitian National Police’s Counter Drug Unit (BLTS), DEA, and CBP Air and Marine in a joint effort to interdict illegal flights bringing drugs into the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Caribbean Corridor Initiative is 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, District of Puerto Rico..
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.