US customs agents seize cocaine inside vessel leaving USVI towards Puerto Rico

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United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) says its Air and Marine Operations (AMO) agents along with agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) seized 292 pounds of cocaine concealed inside two hidden compartments in a vessel intercepted leaving from St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands (USVI), towards Puerto Rico.

A US federal grand jury in the District of Puerto Rico recently returned an indictment against four defendants charged with Conspiracy to Possess with the Intent to Distribute Cocaine and Conspiracy to Import a Controlled Substance, announced Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico.

US Coast Guard“AMO crews remain vigilant of any attempts to smuggle narcotics through various maritime routes and work with our partners to deter them,” said Johnny Morales, Director of Air Operations.

It’s reported that on January 27, a CBP St. Thomas Marine Unit intercepted a vessel after it had left Crown Bay Marina in the USVI. The vessel navigated towards Puerto Rico, CBP said.

Due to the rough sea conditions, CBP said the crew escorted the vessel back to the Crown Bay cruise ship dock in the USVI, where a CBP K9 inspected the vessel.

During a subsequent inspection of the vessel, agents discovered a hidden compartment inside the vessel.

Inside this hidden compartment, the agents recovered about 55 brick shaped objects, which later tested positive for the characteristics of cocaine.

On January 28, the FBI with the help of the United States Attorney’s Office in the District of the Virgin Islands obtained a search warrant for the vessel.

During a thorough search of the vessel, St. Thomas Marine Unit agents found an additional 56 brick shaped objects, which later tested positive for the characteristics of cocaine.

The cocaine was located in a hidden compartment under the carpet .

It said, at the time of the interdiction, there were four individuals on board, all of whom were indicted in the District of Puerto Rico: Maximiliano Fígaro-Benjamín and Emiliano Fígaro-Benjamín, United States Permanent Resident Card holders from the Dominican Republic; Alexandria Andino-Rodríguez, a United States Citizen; and Katerin Martinez-Alberto, a United States Permanent Resident Card holder from Switzerland.

CBP said a total of 111 bricks of cocaine were seized from the defendants, weighing 292 pounds (132 kilos). The estimated wholesale value of the narcotics is over US $5 million.

If convicted, the defendants face a minimum sentence of 10 years, and up to life in prison.

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