News Release
January 16, 2007
Contact: Erin Mulvey

DEA: 117 Arrests Put Large International
Drug Trafficking Organization Out of Business
Colombia-based criminal group smuggled cocaine and
heroin a myriad of ways into the Eastern United States

Sandals used by drug traffickers to smuggle heroin and cocaine.
Sandals used by drug traffickers to smuggle heroin and cocaine.

JAN 16 -- NEW YORK – A sophisticated drug trafficking organization based in Colombia and operated in the United States is now out of business and 117 of its associates have been arrested, the DEA announced today. DEA New York Special Agent-in-Charge John P. Gilbride today announced the results of Operation Death Merchant, a three-year case that targeted an organization headed by Colombia national Ismael Jimenez-Sanchez, and which used a variety of smuggling methods to transport at least $7.5 million worth of cocaine and heroin into the Eastern United States. To date, 55 kilograms of heroin and 173 kilograms of cocaine have been seized, as well as 12 vehicles, nine weapons, and $260,000 USC. Sanchez was arrested today in Colombia.

Early this morning, 2 defendants were arrested in New York and 26 in Colombia, 6 of which have been issued Provisional Arrest Warrants by the US Attorney’s Office Southern District of New York. During the course of the investigation, arrests also took place in Florida, Michigan, Maryland, and the Dominican Republic.

Sandals used by drug traffickers to smuggle heroin and cocaine. "Overall, this joint investigation is responsible for ridding the streets of deadly drugs that were to be sold,” Gilbride said. “Operation Death Merchant has made a significant impact in the fight against drug abuse. DEA and our federal and international law enforcement partners have sent a message that we will not tolerate those organizations that attempt to transport and sell drugs in our communities."

The investigation targeted a drug distribution organization that was based in Periera, Colombia and was responsible for transporting heroin and cocaine via various routes throughout South America and the Carribean into the United States. The drugs were smuggled to the East Coast and distributed throughout New York, Baltimore and Detroit. Smuggling methods included using couriers who swallowed heroin pellets and flew on commercial airlines into JFK Airport. In addition, couriers were sent via cruise ships carrying double-sided suitcases filled with heroin. Other couriers were arrested carrying handbags whose lining was filled with heroin or shoes whose soles were filled with heroin. In one instance, 76 kilograms of cocaine were seized off a “go-fast” boat that departed from Venezuela.

“This is the culmination of an investigation that we began in New York City with the Drug Enforcement Task Force three years ago,” said Bridget G. Brennan, NYC Special Narcotics Prosecutor. “That investigation had a major impact on local heroin distribution, seizing millions of dollars worth of narcotics which would otherwise have been sold on city streets. But investigators did not stop there – they traced the heroin across the hemisphere to its source in South America. This kind of outcome can only be achieved through tenacity, great investigative work and exemplary cooperation.”

Sandals used by drug traffickers to smuggle heroin and cocaine. Sandals used by drug traffickers to smuggle heroin and cocaine.

U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia: “The tenacity of and cooperation among the DEA, BICE, this Office and other prosecutorial offices have effectively dismantled a significant international heroin trafficking organization.”

ICE Special Agent-in-Charge Martin Ficke: “This investigation exemplifies the cooperation between federal and international law enforcement agencies. Together, we dismantled a major heroin and cocaine trafficking organization that poisoned our streets with their drugs and threatened the welfare of our communities. We are sending a message to drug traffickers everywhere that we will not tolerate their illegal activities and we will shut down their enterprises wherever they may be.”

Agencies who worked with DEA on the case include Immigration and Customs Enforcement, New York State Police, and the New York City Police Department, as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (“OCDETF”). DEA’s Special Operations Division coordinated the case. The Colombian National Police ANTIN Heroin Task Force conducted the investigation in Pereira.

Colombians Charged or Arrested Today:

Piedad de Socorro Cañas Cañaveral
Consuelo Rios Lopez
Luz Mila Lopez Rios
Luis Hernando Campuzano
Ismael Jimenez Sanchez (Provisional Arrest Warrant)
Cesar Julian Parra Montoya (Provisional Arrest Warrant)
Carlos Arturo Arango Isaza
Jhon Freddy Alvarez Restrepo
Ivan Colombo Gomez
Carlos Andres Lema Mejia
Robinson Arroyabe Vazquez (Provisional Arrest Warrant)
John Jairo Valencia Saldarriaga
Cesar Augusto Muñoz Contreras
Edgar Pineda Zarate (Provisional Arrest Warrant)
Abelardo Antonio Angel Restrepo
Oscar Alonso Arango Gomez
Luis Alberto Vanegas Leiva (Provisional Arrest Warrant)

Javier Lema Salazar

Albeiro De Jesus Lopez Agudelo

Luis Enrique Alban Caballero

Ricardo Gonzalez Durango (Provisional Arrest Warrant)

Jose Antonio Ruiz Aldana

Jose Antonio Ruiz Aldana

Tiziana Diaz Granado
Francisco Avendaño Moreno

Sergio Mauricio Roldan Restrepo