News Release
October 02, 2008
For Information Contact:

Waldo P. Santiago
Public Information Officer
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Lymarie V. Llovet-Ayala
Public Affairs Specialist
(787) 282-1820; (787) 340-1835

DEA Seizes $58 Million Worth of Cocaine on Panamanian Ship
Coast Guard, U.S. Navy assist in Caribbean initiative; 10 crewmembers from five countries arrested

The Megan Star sits pierside in San Juan
The Megan Star sits pierside in San Juan.

OCT 02 -- (SAN JUAN, PR) — Vito S. Guarino, the Acting Special Agent in Charge of DEA’s Caribbean Division and Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, joined with members of the Caribbean Corridor Initiative (CCI) to announce the seizure of approximately 1,930 kilograms of cocaine with a street market value of $58 million onboard the Panamanian-flagged vessel Megan Star.

As a result of the joint investigative efforts of CCI participants, a U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement detachment onboard the U.S. Naval frigate USS FARRAGUT intercepted the Megan Star in international waters.

After successful coordination between officers of the USCG law enforcement detachment, CCI participating agencies, and the government of Panama, USCG personnel boarded the Megan Star. The vessel was subsequently escorted to the Coast Guard base in San Juan for a more thorough inspection which revealed approximately 1,930 kilograms of cocaine hidden within different sections of the ship.

The Dominican Republic's National Drug Control Directorate (DNCD) provided significant assistance and support to this investigation.

The 10-member crew of the Megan Star, composed of nationals of Costa Rica, Ecuador, India, Nicaragua, and Spain, are in federal custody.

DEA and ICE agents stand guard over the seized cocaine.
DEA and ICE agents stand guard over the seized cocaine.

The seizure was part of the Caribbean Corridor Initiative, an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area project that investigates South American-based drug trafficking organizations responsible for the movement of multi-kilogram quantities of narcotics utilizing the Caribbean as a transshipment point for further distribution to the United States. The members of this inter-agency group are: the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).

"The Caribbean Corridor Initiative continues to deny drug traffickers the use of the waterways of the Caribbean to smuggle their poisonous cargo of drugs to the world” said DEA Caribbean Division Acting Special Agent in Charge Vito S. Guarino “DEA brings our unique perspective and experience in fighting drug trafficking globally as part of this initiative. DEA will continue employing our expertise in support the Caribbean Corridor Initiative" 

“These arrests and mega-kilogram seizure are a clear indication of the success of the Caribbean Corridor Initiative,” said Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. “We will continue maximizing all of our combined resources to investigate and prosecute those who in flagrant disregard of our laws and way of life try to smuggle illegal drugs and weapons into our area of jurisdiction.”

"This operation is a Caribbean Corridor Initiative success," said Capt. Joanna Nunan, Acting Commander, Coast Guard Sector San Juan. "The Coast Guard is proud to be working alongside our partners from ICE, DEA, FBI, CBP and the U.S. Attorney's Office to prevent drug smuggling on the high seas and keep drugs away from our shores."

“The Caribbean Corridor Initiative is a clear example of the level of teamwork and camaraderie among federal agencies in Puerto Rico,” said Manuel Oyola Torres, special agent in charge of ICE investigations in Puerto Rico. “ICE will continue to work aggressively with our federal counterparts in our efforts to enforce the law and dismantle drug trafficking organizations that use the Caribbean Basin as a conduit to introduce illicit drugs into our country.”

"As long as Caribbean Corridor partner agencies collectively share intelligence and resources to combat illegal drug trafficking in the eastern Caribbean, we will continue to succeed in accomplishing our mission to prevent drug smuggling operations in our area of responsibility and bring drug smugglers to justice," said Marcelino Borges, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Director of Field Operations.

DEA agent Vito Guarino speaks with the media.
DEA agent Vito Guarino speaks with the media.

"Drug amounts of this magnitude affect several communities which in turn will eventually affect the future of our country, and the future of our country is the children of these communities. Law enforcement must continue this fight against drugs in order to continue to protect our children, our future leaders," said Luis Fraticelli, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI-San Juan Field Office. 

Those arrested will be transferred to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico where they will await for the outcome of their case.