- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A three-year international undercover investigation involving the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has dismantled a cocaine smuggling ring in Colombia responsible for the delivery each month of 15 tons of the illicit drug to the United States and Europe.

The multijurisdictional probe known as Operation Twin Oceans targeted members of the Pablo Rayo-Montano drug trafficking organization, resulting in more than 100 arrests, the seizure of 52 tons of cocaine and nearly $70 million in assets.

“The Rayo-Montano organization had its own private, rogue navy to run a drug business that was nearly as sophisticated as a small nation,” said DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy. “As well-equipped and complex as this enterprise was, it was a matter of time before law enforcement caught on, and now Rayo-Montano’s decadent, drug-funded lifestyle has caught up with him.

“This morning, his real estate holdings went from three islands to one jail cell,” Mrs. Tandy said.

The coalition of law-enforcement agencies involved included the DEA and federal police agencies from Brazil, Panama and Colombia.

Agents seized three islands off the coast of Panama owned by Rayo-Montano. Also seized were several yachts, fishing trawlers, art galleries, the largest fishing and boating store in Panama, and other commercial properties and businesses.

DEA spokesman Steven Robertson said the investigation revealed a far-reaching cocaine trafficking and money laundering organization based in Colombia.

Mr. Robertson said arrests were made in Colombia, Brazil, Panama, Ecuador and Costa Rica. He said four gang suspects also were arrested in Miami and one was taken into custody in Indianapolis. In Los Angeles, he said, DEA agents tracked down one suspect to an apartment complex, where he was taken into custody after answering a knock on his door by a DEA agent posing as a pizza delivery man.

Rayo-Montano began as a drug transporter in Buenaventura, Colombia, almost two decades ago and evolved into the head of a worldwide criminal cartel, Mr. Robertson said.

The cocaine, he said, was shipped from both the western and northern coasts of Colombia by fast boats, fishing boats, submersibles and containerized cargo vessels, giving rise to the Twin Oceans theme.

Ring leaders and members were taken into custody during pre-dawn raids Tuesday by agents armed with arrest and search warrants. The raids followed indictments handed up in U.S. District Courts in Miami and Washington.

The charges include money laundering and conspiracy, and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. The Rayo-Montano cartel was designated as a Consolidated Priority Organization Target in October, adding it to a list of the most significant international drug traffickers and money launderers in the world.

The list, a rogue’s gallery of international drug kingpins, gives federal law-enforcement agencies and prosecutors the ability to focus their resources on pursuing the highest priority targets.

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