Drug bust uncovers plan for smuggling Federal authorities call seizure largest in Maryland history

March 05, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Police who seized a ton of cocaine from a Baltimore warehouse last week broke up an elaborate scheme to smuggle drugs from Houston to New York and uncovered connections to South and Central America, newly filed court documents say.

Two affidavits totaling 18 pages, filed in U.S. District Court, detail a five-month undercover investigation of suspected drug distributors and how they allegedly planned to get $25 million worth of cocaine to New York through Baltimore.

Federal authorities announced the seizure at a news conference on Friday in which they displayed the cocaine packaged in 1,000 "bricks," each weighing one kilogram, or 2.2 pounds. They described it as the largest drug seizure in Maryland history.

Court documents describe the alleged laundering of drug money through the purchases of a car at a Baltimore County dealership, a $3,600 blowtorch to cut open shipping containers and the renting of a city warehouse that was supposed to be used to store chlorine gas but remained virtually empty for months.

Hidden cameras

In their investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI and Customs agents set up hidden cameras at the warehouse, searched the suspect's trash, followed cars through six states, and photographed visitors to businesses and private houses.

Three suspects -- all arrested last week at the Vince Lombardi rest area on the New Jersey Turnpike -- were named at the news conference. But court documents name six people charged in the conspiracy.

In custody are Jose H. Orozco-Alba, 30, of Queens, New York, and Oscar Orlando Alba, 29, and Luis Francisco Alba, 49, both of Miami, Fla. They are charged with possession and conspiracy to import cocaine.

The three suspects were en route to Maryland yesterday. A court date has not been set. Three other suspects named in court papers were still at large.

Laundering alleged

Court documents say a suspect who has not been arrested bought a burgundy 1996 pickup truck from Jerry's Chevrolet on East Joppa Road, paying for it in cash in three payments on three successive days and showing a Colombian passport and a U.S. visa obtained in Venezuela.

Federal authorities say that buying cars in such a manner is typical of how drug dealers launder money.

John Sophocles, the dealership's general manager, said the sale was suspicious and was reported to authorities.

Federal prosecutors would not comment on the case yesterday. But at the news conference Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Beth P. Gesner called the confiscated drugs an "extraordinary seizure."

It was more than twice the size of one at the Dundalk Marine Terminal in 1992, when customs agents found 1,007 pounds of cocaine hidden in 55-gallon drums that had come from Panama.

The size of last week's seizure was unusual, federal officials say.

"Baltimore is not considered a big port of entry like Miami, Puerto Rico or the Southwest boarder," said Charles Simonsen, the acting special agent in charge of the U.S. Customs office in Baltimore.

Probe began with tip

Police said their investigation began in September with a tip from a confidential source in Baltimore about suspicious activity at Chemical Treatment Inc. in the 6600 block of Moravia Park Drive.

Federal investigators said they watched workers transport trash from the warehouse to a suspect's apartment on Stonewain Court in Towson, where it was dumped outside the complex.

That paperwork, court documents say, showed that the company planned to export cylinders filled with chlorine gas to Venezuela and then have the empty containers returned.

Pub Date: 3/05/97

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