CHRISTIANSTED — A federal joint task force including U.S. Customs agents seized more than $20 million worth of cocaine after it intercepted a smuggling speedboat near St. Croix this weekend.
“Transnational criminal organizations take aim at diverse routes to move their illicit contraband,” indicated Augusto Reyes, Director of the Caribbean CBP Air and Marine Branch. “Our agents will continue to use our advanced aeronautical and maritime capabilities to detect and interdict them throughout our coastal borders.”
Three British Virgin Islands citizens and one citizen of the Dominican Republic were arrested Sunday on criminal charges related to their alleged possession with intent to distribute 667 kilograms of cocaine on-board a vessel apprehended near St. Croix, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said today.
According to court documents, at about 3:30 p.m. Sunday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air and Marine Operations (CBP-AMO) along with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) detected a thirty-two feet vessel headed north towards the British Virgin Islands. When law enforcement approached the vessel, it was dead in the water.
Captaining the vessel was British Virgin Islands resident Shannon John. Passengers included Sean John and Emmanuel Tolentino-Lebron, each also from the BVI, and Augusto Rodriquez-Molina, a citizen of the Dominican Republic. Federal authorities located approximately 667 kilograms (1,470.48 pounds) of cocaine packaged in approximately 20 block-shaped bales onboard.
All four men were arrested and charged with possession with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine on a covered vessel, and conspiracy to commit the same offense, in violation of 46 U.S.C. § 70503(a)(1) & 46 U.S.C. § 70506(b).
If convicted, they face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
During the afternoon, an AMO Multirole Enforcement Aircraft (MEA) crew patrolling the east side of the U.S. Virgin Islands detected a twin-engine boat at high speed. Suspected contraband was noticeable on the boat deck.
The MEA crew assisted an AMO St. Thomas Coastal Interceptor Vessel crew and a U.S. Coast Guard small boat to stop the 32’ Manta vessel 20 nautical miles east of St. Croix. The four men in the vessel were subsequently arrested for narcotics violations.
This is an HSI St. Croix led investigation with the assistance of CBP AMO St. Thomas, HSI St. Thomas, DEA St. Thomas and DEA St. Croix.
AMO safeguards our Nation by anticipating and confronting security threats through our aviation and maritime law enforcement expertise, innovative capabilities, and partnerships at the border and beyond. With approximately 1,800 federal agents and mission support personnel, 240 aircraft, and 300 marine vessels operating throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands, AMO conducts its mission in the air and maritime environments at and beyond the border, and within the nation’s interior.
CBP-AMO and Homeland Security Investigations are investigating the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Everard E. Potter is prosecuting the case.
This effort is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation.
OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach.
Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF.
A criminal complaint is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.