- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2006

Federal authorities yesterday announced the indictment of 56 persons on drug-smuggling and money-laundering charges, 27 of whom were arrested for their purported links to international drug cartels.

The arrests were part of “Operation Watusi,” coordinated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), along with the FBI’s “Operation Green Traketon” — operating under the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.

The investigations focused on drug cartels that operated in Puerto Rico, Colombia, St. Martin, Netherlands Antilles, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic.

ICE spokesman Dean Boyd said simultaneous arrests took place in several countries. Numerous foreign and domestic bank accounts were seized, along with $3.1 million cash, about 4,000 pounds of cocaine and six boats.

According to one of the indictments, a purported leader of one of the organizations, Luis Pena-Pena, coordinated the kidnapping of an undercover ICE agent in Medellin, Colombia, in December. The indictment also said a ransom of $2 million was requested for the release of the undercover agent.

The purported drug traffickers, who thought they were dealing with a drug smuggler, later discovered the kidnapped man was a U.S. drug agent and he was released.

“We will leave no stone unturned in hunting down those that kidnap and threaten undercover ICE agents. In this case, our agent was fortunate to escape with his life,” said Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie B. Myers, who heads ICE.

Two of eight indictments in the probe said the cartel members and their co-conspirators coordinated the transportation of multimillion-dollar shipments of cocaine from South America to Puerto Rico via boat. Seven of the eight indictments accused cartel members of laundering the narcotics proceeds through various financial transactions.

Mr. Boyd said the cash was laundered through a complex money-laundering scheme known as the “Black Market Peso Exchange.”

During the investigation, Mr. Boyd said federal agents were able to infiltrate money-laundering and drug-trafficking organizations, identifying the source of the drugs, the foreign and domestic drug transporters, a distributor and money launderers. As a result of the simultaneous arrests, he said, federal agents dismantled several drug-trafficking and money-laundering organizations.

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