- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

Federal drug agents have disrupted an international heroin smuggling ring responsible for shipping more than $14 million worth of the drug into the United States since 2004, arresting 22 suspected gang members and seizing more than 60 pounds of heroin.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) spokesman Rusty Payne said agents also confiscated more than $220,000 in cash during raids with authorities in Trinidad and Ecuador, as well as heroin abandoned by drug couriers in a Guayaquil, Ecuador, hotel, at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and at Piarco International Airport in Trinidad.

“Heroin-laden clothes or heroin hidden in soles of shoes — it makes no difference how it is smuggled into the United States, law enforcement will find it,” said John P. Gilbride, special agent in charge of the DEA’s New York office. “This investigation shows that through collaborative efforts with our local and international partners, the DEA is committed to identifying, investigating and dismantling drug trafficking organizations so we can stop the flow of poison onto the streets of our communities.”

The arrests culminated a 10-month undercover investigation led by Justice Department’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force and, Mr. Payne said, involved multiple confidential witnesses and sources, court-authorized wiretaps, surveillance and a controlled heroin delivery.

On Wednesday and yesterday, he said, nine suspects were arrested in Las Vegas, one in Palm Springs, Calif., one in Caguas, Puerto Rico, and one in New York. Other suspects were taken into custody earlier this month.

A criminal complaint in the case, unsealed yesterday in New York, identified the organization’s leaders as Javier Alexander Alvarez Monroy, 26, a former police officer in Bogota, Colombia, and Marc Klindt, 29, both of whom are accused of using couriers to smuggle the organization’s heroin from several countries, including Ecuador, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, Brazil and Mexico, to New York for distribution.

One of the couriers is identified in the complaint as Jeanette Vidal, 47, a Las Vegas-area school teacher.

Mr. Payne said the organization employed more than a dozen drug couriers and recruiters, many of whom made multiple drug trips and were based in the Las Vegas area. He said the couriers smuggled 6 to 10 pounds of heroin per trip within the lining of clothes.

He also said investigators discovered that Mr. Monroy and Mr. Klindt used the Internet to communicate with their foreign suppliers and their drug couriers.

Others charged were Wendy Holiday, 35, Chantelle Davila, 31, and Paola Lujan, age unknown, accused of recruiting couriers for the organization. Hector Navarro was accused of assisting in the gang’s money-laundering activities.

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