Drug Trafficker Sentenced to 13 Years
Concealed Cocaine in Shipments of Chili Peppers
NEW YORK – Earlier today, in federal court in Brooklyn, Humberto Baez, a produce importer based in Pennsylvania, was sentenced by United States District Judge Allyne R. Ross to 13 years’ imprisonment for conspiring to import and distribute cocaine, and for possessing with intent to distribute cocaine. Baez was convicted by a jury in February 2019 following a two-week trial before the late United States District Judge Jack B. Weinstein.
Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Ray Donovan, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration, New York Division, Peter C. Fitzhugh, Special Agent-in-Charge, Homeland Security Investigations, New York, and Dermot F. Shea, Commissioner, New York City Police Department, announced the sentence.
“Today’s sentence demonstrates that this Office and its law enforcement partners are committed to stopping the flow of dangerous drugs into this country and to bringing drug traffickers like Baez to justice,” stated Acting United States Attorney Kasulis. Ms. Kasulis expressed her grateful appreciation to the New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force for their work on the long-term investigation, the DEA’s Santo Domingo Country Office and the Sensitive Investigative Unit for their assistance.
“Concealing drug shipments with produce is one way drug traffickers try to elude law enforcement. This cat and mouse game evolves over time resulting in law enforcement recovering drugs in various places; such as inside coconuts, wheelchairs, animals, people, tombstones, etc. just to name a few. I applaud the members of the New York Strike Force and the U.S. Attorney’s Office Eastern District of New York for their dedicated work throughout this investigation,” stated DEA Special Agent in Charge Donovan.
“By conspiring to import cocaine hidden in a carton of chili peppers, Humberto Baez was fueling a violent trade that victimizes New Yorkers. His conviction and sentencing today sends a clear message that the NYPD and our law enforcement partners will stop at nothing to track these kinds of schemes and protect the public from the impact of illegal narcotics,” stated NYPD Commissioner Shea.
Between August 2016 and March 2018, Baez conspired with others to import cocaine hidden inside a shipping container into the United States. Baez had contacted an importing company to use as a front to transport cocaine from Baez’s source of supply in the Dominican Republic. Baez and his co-conspirators then arranged for two “dry run” shipments containing only produce into the Red Hook Terminal in Brooklyn to establish the appearance of a legitimate business relationship between the exporter and importer, thereby avoiding scrutiny when subsequently shipping cocaine. In late February 2018, a third shipment arrived in Miami, Florida with approximately 16 kilograms of cocaine concealed in the flaps of cardboard boxes containing chili peppers. Baez relayed information that a third shipment contained “ripe tomatoes,” using agreed upon code words for cocaine that would be transported by truck to Baez’s warehouse in Pennsylvania. On March 1, 2018, members of law enforcement searched the container and seized the hidden cocaine.
The Strike Force is a crime-fighting unit comprising federal, state and local law enforcement agencies supported by the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. It is housed at the DEA’s New York Division and includes agents and officers of the DEA; the NYPD; the New York State Police; HSI; the U.S. Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; U.S. Secret Service; the U.S. Marshals Service; New York National Guard; the Clarkstown Police Department; U.S. Coast Guard; Port Washington Police Department; and New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s International Narcotics and Money Laundering Section. Assistant United States Attorneys Nomi D. Berenson and Erin M. Reid are in charge of the prosecution.
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 18-CR-168 (S-1) (ARR)
Press release and evidence pics from trial (including pic of Baez) attached.