News Release
March 30, 2006
DEA Public Affairs

Is Nothing Sacred?
Drug Ring Hid Cocaine in Religious Statues and Tombstones

Drug Traffickers concealed bricks of cocaine inside religious statues of the Virgin Mary Drug Traffickers concealed bricks of cocaine inside religious statues of the Virgin Mary
Drug Traffickers concealed cocaine inside religious statues of the Virgin Mary
(click images for high-res versions)

March 30– (New York, NY) The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) today announced the results of the DEA-led Operation Omni Presence, a multi-jurisdictional international investigation that targeted a major drug trafficking organization (DTO) that smuggled hundreds of kilograms of cocaine across the South West Border through the United States to New York City. This New York investigation resulted in the arrest of 11 individuals, the seizure of 194 kilograms of cocaine and $474,000 USC.

Operation Omni Presence revealed a far-reaching cocaine trafficking organization based out of Mexico which used ingenious methods to smuggle their illegal contraband – including the concealment of bricks of cocaine inside of religious statues of the Virgin Mary. The managers of the criminal organization used highly sophisticated methods of communication to coordinate the movement of cocaine north and illegal drug proceeds south. Operation Omni Presence used advanced techniques of information collection and intelligence sharing to identify every facet of the organization. As a result, DEA was able to identify and dismantle all levels of criminal activity, from the Mexican source of supply to the wholesale distributors and retail dealers in our local communities.


Special Agent in Charge John P. Gilbride of the New York Field Division stated, “Like grave robbers - who have no respect for the dead, this drug organization used revered tombstones to smuggle millions of dollars worth of cocaine into New York City. DEA identified this international organization with its cocaine distribution reach from Mexico to the streets of New York and put it out of business.” SAC Gilbride commended the Nassau County Police Department, the New York City Police Department and the United States Attorney’s Office Southern District of New York for their diligent work and cooperation in this investigation.

“This investigation is a great example of how vigorous collaboration between local, state and federal drug enforcement agencies can produce exceptional results,” said Nassau County Police Commissioner James Lawrence. “Through teamwork such as this, a local investigation of one suspect blossomed into an international case that covered all ends of the drug trafficking spectrum.”

Operation Omni Presence resulted in 11 arrests based on indictments issued by the United States Attorney’s Office, the Southern District of New York. The indictments included charges of Title 18 USC 1956 – Money Laundering, Title 21 USC 841 (a) (1) – Possession with Intent to Distribute and Title 21 USC 846 – Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute.

Operation Omni Presence was a joint investigation between DEA offices located in New York, NY, Atlanta, GA, Houston, TX, San Antonio, TX, Laredo, TX, Charlotte, NC, Raleigh, NC, Tampa, FL and Mexico City and the Nassau County Police Department. Intelligence collection and operational coordination was provided by the DEA Special Operations Division based in Washington, D.C.