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8732: Suspected cocaine smugglers arrested (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Published Saturday, July 14, 2001
Suspected cocaine smugglers arrested
17 men ferried drugs into S. Florida, feds say
BY DAVID GREEN
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
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
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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