Md. men named in major drug case

Officials say international smuggling ring is broken up

arrestees called `top players'

Indictment unsealed in Greenbelt

February 16, 2005|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN STAFF

An international drug network that allegedly used car batteries to smuggle cocaine and heroin from Latin America into the United States, including to dealers in Southern Maryland, has been dismantled, federal law enforcement authorities said yesterday.

The far-flung probe became public yesterday when the federal court in Greenbelt unsealed a grand jury indictment charging 21 men, including nine in Maryland and a dozen in Guatemala, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. The charges include conspiracy to import and distribute illegal drugs and could result in life sentences.

"These are the top players," a federal law enforcement source close to the investigation said, adding that 100 people have been charged so far. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.

Federal prosecutors gave the go-ahead to reveal the March 31, 2004, indictment after fugitives in Guatemala had been arrested.

Known as Operation Jump Start, the multiagency investigation started in October 2003 when the federal Drug Enforcement Administration connected a drug seizure by the Louisiana State Police to a drug investigation started in 2002 in Southern Maryland.

"The link was made through telephone contacts between what was happening on the border and Maryland," the law enforcement source said.

That probe, paired with one in New York, led to investigations in 14 other judicial districts, as well as in Guatemala and Colombia.

"It was a new trafficking route to smuggle heroin out of Colombia through Guatemala and across the Southwest border concealed in car batteries," DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy said in a prepared statement.

More than 22 kilograms of heroin and 80 kilograms of cocaine have been confiscated, and more than $1 million has been seized, DEA officials said.

The indictment alleges that from 2001 to 2004 the organization coordinated the distribution of large quantities of drugs by, among other things, installing stashes in operable car batteries in Guatemala City and using couriers to smuggle the batteries across the Mexican border into Texas.

Some batteries were large enough to carry as much as 5 kilos, according to the law enforcement source. To fool customs agents, the battery containers held the drugs as well as a smaller, working battery, he said.

Prosecutors alleged that when the drugs reached Maryland, some of the defendants stored and resold the drugs in places that included International Auto Brokers in Brandywine and Rosario Imports and Botanica Gran Poder, both in Hyattsville.

"This case is yet another example of our commitment to dismantle international drug cartels which poison our communities here at home," interim Maryland U.S. Attorney Allen F. Loucks said in a written statement yesterday.

Authorities believe drug profits were used to purchase vehicles for export to Guatemala and fund money wire transfers from Maryland to people in Texas, Mexico and Guatemala. Bulk packages of money were also smuggled to Texas, Mexico and Guatemala from Maryland, according to the indictment.

The indictment includes charges based on the seizure of 8 kilograms of heroin and more than 24 kilograms of cocaine. It also seeks forfeiture of $5 million in assets, including vehicles, jewelry, and more than $200,000 of cash already seized.

The U.S. attorney's office, working with the justice and state departments, is trying to extradite the foreign nationals charged in the indictment for trial in Maryland.

It was unclear last night how many of the 21 defendants are in U.S. custody.

The defendants who live in Maryland are: Juan Jose Arevalo, 41, of Hyattsville; Victor Garrido, 50, of Laurel; Candido Rosario, 45, of Hyattsville; Leonardo Antonio De Leon, 24, of Silver Spring; George Edward Smith, 38, of Hyattsville; Jesse Rosario, 22, of Hyattsville; Franklin Alberto Alma, 28, of Silver Spring; Peter Axarlis, 24, of Germantown; and Frank Carnucci, 51, of Annapolis.

Federal prosecutors in Maryland said three fugitives remain at large. The maximum penalty faced by each defendant is life in prison and a $4 million fine.

Some of the defendants have already pleaded guilty to felony drug trafficking offenses, prosecutors said. They include De Leon, who received a 10-year prison sentence, and Jesus Reyes-Diaz, 51, of Mexico, who was sentenced to eight years.

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