A Colombian who moved with his family to a quiet Catonsville subdivision last year is being held on federal criminal charges, accused of using a phony tile business there as a front in an attempt to make one of the five largest known cocaine shipments to the United States.
The six-ton shipment, with an estimated street value of $200 million, is believed to have been the largest ever intended for transport to Baltimore. Authorities in Panama burned the cache Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.
In Baltimore yesterday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul M. Rosenberg denied bail to Luis Alfredo Ferrin, 40, of the first block of Brucester Bridge Court, and scheduled a preliminary hearing July 29.
Judge Rosenberg said he denied bail because he was concerned that Mr. Ferrin would flee to Colombia if he were released. If that happened, the judge said, the government would have trouble returning him to Baltimore.
"He was about to leave Baltimore," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack F. Purcell.
Federal investigators and Panamanian police seized the 5,294 kilograms of cocaine on a ship in duty-free port of Colon, Panama, July 15. The cocaine was buried in 75 pallets of tiles, and was to arrive this week at the Port of Baltimore.
The bill of lading for the shipment listed Mr. Ferrin's business, Madison Tile Inc., at 79 Mellor Ave., Catonsville, as the recipient.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Customs Service agents said the shipment was the third or fourth largest shipment of cocaine ever seized by U.S. authorities. The cache was Panama's biggest drug bust.
Donald Turnbaugh, special agent in charge of the Customs Service Baltimore office, said the cocaine was being sent from a Panama export company, Celeste International.
"It would have been for distribution along the entire East Coast," Mr. Turnbaugh said.
Authorities had been watching Mr. Ferrin for more than a year.