- The Washington Times - Friday, January 27, 2006

Federal drug agents have arrested more than 20 people in an international drug smuggling operation that purportedly used dozens of “swallowers” to transport heroin from Panama to drug dealers in New York.

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) spokesman Garrison K. Courtney said indictments unsealed yesterday showed that ring leaders in Panama and New York recruited both U.S. residents and Panamanians to ingest heroin and carry it aboard pre-arranged flights from Panama to the New York dealers.

“We are committed to stopping the flow of dangerous narcotics into our communities by going straight to the source and putting international drug traffickers out of business,” said John P. Gilbride, special agent in charge of the DEA’s New York office.

The indictments charged Carlos Antonio Zaldivar Robinson, Lee Omar Dean Jerome, Luis Alberto Fruto Lay and Mark Anthony Lowe, as the four leaders in Panama who oversaw the recruitment of both American and Panamanian swallowers.

In New York, Bronx-based Silverio Guzman, described by DEA officials as the head of the organization’s cell, is accused of coordinating the distribution of heroin. Also indicted were a Panamanian and an American citizen who smuggled ingested heroin, three other members of the transportation organization, a Bronx-based heroin supplier and three local drug traffickers who resold the drugs throughout New York City, authorities said.

Mr. Courtney said the international investigation identified Mr. Guzman as the main target in New York, saying he actively recruited swallowers, arranged for the trips under the guidance of the Panamanian bosses, arranged to retrieve the heroin from the swallowers and supplied heroin to local dealers.

For nine months, Mr. Courtney said, surveillance and wiretap operations traced the comings and goings of swallowers as they traveled routinely from Latin America to the United States transporting pellets full of heroin. On Sept. 10, accused swallower Daniel Hinestroza was arrested in Panama by Panamanian authorities with the assistance of DEA agents, Mr. Courtney said.

Mr. Hinestroza, who swallowed 84 pellets containing more than a half-kilogram of heroin, was on his way to New York City, Mr. Courtney said. During the investigation, another courier, Juan Castillo, traveled to and from the United States and Venezuela, Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Britain, the Netherlands and France on 22 different occasions, he said.

Records show the cartel paid an average of $8,000 for a kilogram of heroin in Panama that re-sold wholesale for more than $50,000 in New York City, and potentially could have a street value of $300,000. Swallowers were paid a fee plus airfare and hotel expenses per trip, Mr. Courtney said, adding that the fee could be as high $10,000 depending on how many heroin pellets a person could transport.

During the investigation, agents seized more than 3 kilograms of heroin in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn.

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