- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A task force of federal, state and local drug agents in New York has arrested 56 persons suspected of being part of a heroin-trafficking ring who are thought to be responsible for smuggling millions of dollars’ worth of the drug from Colombia into New York City.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge John P. Gilbride, who heads the agency’s New York field office, said a two-year undercover investigation known as Operation Double Identity not only dismantled the organization’s Colombian supply side but also derailed its retail operations.

“The criminal organization targeted in Operation Double Identity used highly sophisticated smuggling methods to bring its heroin into the United States and ultimately to New York City,” Mr. Gilbride said. “They hid heroin in virtually everything but the kitchen sink — in furniture shipments, the soles of sandals and golf bags, and also used human ‘swallowers’ to smuggle heroin pellets to the U.S. on board commercial airliners.”

Mr. Gilbride said the investigation began in summer 2004, when Colombian authorities, responding to an anonymous tip on a heroin hot line set up by the DEA and Colombian law enforcement, seized more than 50 pounds of heroin in Cali, Colombia.

He said Colombian authorities arrested nine leaders and 12 members of the organization yesterday who controlled the heroin supply from Colombia. At the same time, he said, the DEA task force arrested suspected drug-gang members in New York City and Florida. Twenty-six others already had been taken into custody.

During the investigation, Mr. Gilbride said, the DEA task force and Colombian authorities, assisted by agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Florida, seized more than 250 pounds of the organization’s heroin — worth more than $25 million — that was scheduled for delivery in New York City.

According to charging documents in the case, the DEA task force also identified the organization’s reputed New York City leaders as Roberto Soto-Beltran, Jaime Londono and Jose Rodriguez Nieves, along with four Florida-based members of the organization who facilitated the transport of Colombian heroin into New York City.

Mr. Gilbride said that during a raid on “stash houses” used by Mr. Rodriguez Nieves in the Bronx and in Queens, agents seized packaged heroin destined for New York City streets, plus more than 20 “stamps” used to brand the heroin for sale. He said the agents also uncovered $3 million in cash, watches, jewelry and luxury cars.

If convicted, all 56 persons face life imprisonment and mandatory 10-year sentences on the heroin-trafficking charges.

The task force included agents from the DEA, New York City Police Department and New York State Police, working collectively as the New York City Drug Enforcement Task Force.

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