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8732: Suspected cocaine smugglers arrested (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Published Saturday, July 14, 2001

Suspected cocaine smugglers arrested
17 men ferried drugs into S. Florida, feds say

A ring of more than a dozen accused drug smugglers -- who allegedly ferried 
cocaine from Haiti aboard small freighters and then distributed it from 
Overtown to South Carolina -- was in custody Friday morning after a series 
of pre-dawn raids across South Florida.

The busts followed the unsealing of a federal indictment that named 17 
people. While not the kingpins, the suspects represent the highest level of 
drug distributors arrested since a federal, state and local crackdown began 
on the Miami River this year, said Joe Kilmer, a Drug Enforcement 
Administration special agent.

The raids netted 130 kilos of cocaine, said Guy A. Lewis, U.S. attorney for 
the Southern District of Florida. They also underscored Haiti's prominent 
role in the shipment of cocaine into the United States.

Members of the multiagency Operation Riverwalk task force hailed Friday's 
arrests as evidence they were stemming the tide.

``We have disbanded a major trafficking organization,'' Lewis said.

The case had an obscure beginning: In October 1999, police in Columbia, 
S.C., raided a suspected drug house. They traced a Ford Mustang parked in 
front to Damon Woodard -- then a Miami police officer.

South Carolina authorities tipped off the Miami police, who launched their 
own internal probe.

The investigation snowballed, with more than half a dozen local, state and 
federal agencies joining in -- the FBI, the DEA, Broward Sheriff's Office, 
Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, U.S. Attorney's Office, Coast Guard and 
Florida Highway Patrol.

The task force began tapping Woodard's phone. Authorities said they learned 
Woodard and a second man, Roosevelt Petit-Frere, were stashing kilos of 
cocaine inside the bumpers of rented Ford Mustangs and then ferrying the 
drugs through Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

On May 19, 2000, agents arrested the pair. Woodard -- an eight-year veteran 
in the uniformed patrol section -- was fired shortly afterward, the Miami 
Police Department said.

His personnel file contained more than 30 letters of commendation. It also 
contained nine reprimands, including two that led to his suspension and one 
that cost him 10 hours earned overtime.

Woodard is being held at the Miami-Dade County Jail, but he will be 
transferred to a federal detention center.

``It shows some of the corroding effects of narcotics,'' said Miami Police 
Chief Raul Martinez. ``As quickly as we could, we dismissed the officer 

Over the next year, task force agents tapped eight more phones, according to 
the DEA. They eventually uncovered a group of mostly Haitian and 
Haitian-American suspects who had known each other since childhood and had 
formed a tight-knit criminal ring.

``This was an extremely difficult organization to take down,'' said Jim 
Shedd, a DEA special agent who helped supervise the investigation with Miami 
Sgt. Ralph Masferrer. ``We didn't have informants. We couldn't introduce 
undercovers. We had to use a lot of hard work to get around that.''

By listening in on phone conversations, the agents then learned the ring 
smuggled hundreds of kilos of cocaine from Haiti to the Port of Miami, the 
DEA said.

They also ferried over an occasional load of illegal immigrants, according 
to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The drugs were then shipped as far as Georgia and South Carolina. Locally, 
they supplied the crack trade in Overtown, Liberty City and Carol City, the 
DEA said.

The seven-count federal indictment, unsealed Friday morning, named the 17 

They are charged with conspiracy to import cocaine, conspiracy to distribute 
cocaine, conspiracy to smuggle aliens and smuggling aliens for profit.

Fourteen were being held in state and federal jails, according to Kilmer, 
the DEA special agent. The other three are still at large, Kilmer said, with 
one suspect negotiating to surrender.

``This is really a successful effort we're quite proud of,'' Gov. Jeb Bush 
announced at a press conference at the port several hours after the arrest. 
``It is our intention to take this model and move it up the [Florida] 

Although the case -- dubbed ``Operation Showtime'' -- began with a tip about 
a potentially crooked Miami police officer, it wound up being incorporated 
into Operation Riverwalk.

That two-year, multimillion-dollar program began in February as an effort to 
stanch the flow of cocaine into the Miami River. It includes 279 officers 
from more than a dozen agencies and involves the stopping at sea and 
searching of every freighter bound for the Port of Miami.

Since Operation Riverwalk began, cocaine seizures on the Miami River for the 
first six months of 2001 dropped by nearly 45 percent from the same time 
period in 2000, according to Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Nearly all had a Haitian connection. Of the 30 ships seized by federal 
agents at the Port of Miami since January 2000 -- containing nearly 4,000 
kilos of cocaine -- all listed Haiti as their last port of call, the DEA 

``These vessels are stacked up in Haiti,'' said Kilmer. ``They can't figure 
out where to go to get their drugs in.''

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