FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Federal authorities in South Florida announced Wednesday the takedown of a major Colombian drug ring accused of smuggling more than 15 tons of cocaine per month into the United States.
The global dragnet resulted in the seizure of 52 tons of cocaine and roughly $70 million in assets linked to alleged cocaine kingpin Pablo Rayo-Montano, including three private islands off the coast of Panama, $4 million in artwork, three yachts located in Coconut Grove, Fla., and four homes in Broward County, Fla., law enforcement officials said.
The raids, which began Tuesday morning and led to about 100 arrests worldwide, culminated a three-year investigation known as Operation Twin Oceans.
Rayo-Montano was captured Tuesday in Sao Paulo, Brazil. His ex-wife Sandra Orozco-Gil, who lives in Margate, Fla., with the couple’s three children, was one of four suspects arrested in South Florida.
Rayo-Montano, Orozco-Gil and 30 other alleged members of the ring face drug conspiracy and money laundering charges in South Florida that could put each of them in prison for more than 20 years.
Mark Trouville, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Miami, said the operation successfully disrupted an international drug cartel.
“I don’t remember an investigation in quite a while when we could tie 52 tons of cocaine to one organization,” Trouville said.
Trouville said Rayo-Montano’s group used sophisticated methods to participate in every phase of the drug trade, from production to distribution to laundering their own illegal proceeds.
The investigation received the name Twin Oceans because Rayo-Montano’s organization shipped narcotics from ports along Colombia’s west coast on the Pacific Ocean and north coast on the Caribbean Sea, Trouville said.
According to court documents, DEA agents used court-approved wiretaps to listen in on thousands of phone calls involving members of the enterprise, including Rayo-Montano.
Prosecutors allege that Rayo-Montano established several shipping, boating and fishing businesses in Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and the United States to conduct drug smuggling and hide drug proceeds.
A search warrant issued in the case earlier this month reveals details of the drug ring’s activities in South Florida.
In a sworn statement attached to the warrant, DEA agent James McGovern identified Hector Eduardo Aguilar of Miami as Rayo-Montano’s chief financial officer.
Aguilar also managed three Coconut Grove yachts owned by Rayo-Montano and helped customize vessels to transport shipments of cash and cocaine, McGovern said.
Florida records list Aguilar as the president and registered agent of Consolidated Boat Services Inc. and Natural Beef Company – two businesses prosecutors think Rayo-Montano used to launder drug-related income.
McGovern said Jose Eduardo Arango-Jaramillo of Weston, Fla., was also involved in money laundering for the organization and may have stored money, documents and drugs in a Weston storage unit.
DEA agents began watching Arango-Jaramillo in February and witnessed him enter the storage unit in April, McGovern said. Arango-Jaramillo entered empty-handed and emerged carrying two black suitcases. The following day he flew from Miami to Cali, Colombia. After returning, Arango-Jaramillo again visited the storage unit. Police dogs trained to detect drugs were later brought to the unit’s doors and signaled the presence of narcotics, McGovern said.
Aguilar and Arango-Jaramillo are both charged with money laundering, as is Rayo-Montano’s nephew Victor Serna of Weston.
(c) 2006 South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
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