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#2313: Agents' drug seizure total from boats reaches $25M (fwd)


Published Friday, February 11, 2000, in the Miami Herald 
 Agents' drug seizure total from boats reaches $25M

 Federal agents scooped another 198 pounds of cocaine from the bowels of
a 70-foot converted fishing boat from Haiti on Thursday, bringing the
two-week total seized from five Haitian freighters to more than $25
million in drugs. So well concealed were the 90 wrapped ``bricks'' that
agents of U.S. Customs, FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration had
 been unable to find them over the last two weeks -- even though sources
from inside a Haitian drug smuggling organization insisted they were
there. ``We knew it was there, and we couldn't find it,'' said Customs
Supervisor Bobby Rutherford, who has supervised the daunting effort of
hauling the ships onto dry dock and cutting through the steel hull from
the outside. ``Without sources we'd never find it.'' The Anita, seized
Jan. 29 after FBI agents received inside information on a huge
 shipment of cocaine on five separate freighters, was swarmed with
Customs agents, inspectors and dockworkers who refused to give up the
search. They spent $10,000 just to dry-dock the vessel, thousands more
cleaning out and disposing of several feet of bilge and raw sewage
collected at the bottom of the boat, and hundreds of hours drilling and
searching for the cocaine to no avail -- until Thursday.
 As with the four other ships, which yielded a total of 2,987 pounds of
cocaine, the smugglers had cut into a 12-inch hollow of the thin keel
structure at the rear bottom of the vessel, stuffed the cocaine inside,
added a layer of mud to circumvent Customs drills, then expertly welded
it shut. The welds were sanded smooth, the patch repainted and then
doused with acid to make it appear weathered. Then the entire bottom of
the boat was filled with foul bilge. ``We've spent far more to search
this boat and find this cocaine than [the boat] will fetch at auction,''
said Rutherford, who valued the boat at about $75,000. Customs is
inquiring about government artificial reef programs to see if the boats
 can be donated and sunk in exchange for sharing the costs. The seizures
at the Miami River have sent shivers through federal agents, alarmed
 at the sophistication of smugglers from Haiti, a country emerging as
the central transshipment point for Colombian cocaine.