Puerto Rico Drug Arrests Highlight Island as Stepping-Stone to US

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US authorities have arrested 10 alleged members of a cocaine trafficking network that moved Colombian product via the island of St. Maarten to Puerto Rico and the US mainland, in an operation illustrative of the territory’s importance to the drug trade.

On July 22, the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) announced the arrests of Colombian national Javier Carrillo and nine Puerto Ricans as part of an ongoing operation that began in 2012, reported Prensa Latina.

According to Pedro Janer, assistant special agent in charge of the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Caribbean Division, Carrillo — who was detained in the Dominican Republic — supplied the network with cocaine acquired directly from Colombian laboratories, passing it to his distributor in Puerto Rico, reported Primera Hora. The cocaine was trafficked through the Dutch island territory St. Maarten, and then sold both in Puerto Rico and on the US mainland, reported the Associated Press.

Janer said the organization had moved anywhere from 1 to 5 tons of cocaine to Puerto Rico. According to the Associated Press, the group operated for around a decade, bringing in nearly $127 million in earnings. 

Some of the suspects are also accused of laundering $1.2 million through the Puerto Rican lottery, with the help of a collaborator who provided them winning tickets, and of conspiring to move $12 million in proceeds back to St. Maarten. 

InSight Crime Analysis 

Amid a resurgence in the use of Caribbean drug routes, Puerto Rico has become a key transit point for north-bound product, with maritime seizures approximately tripling in the past three years. This has been facilitated by its status as a US territory, which means shipments of goods are not subjected to customs inspections before entering the mainland.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Puerto Rico

As in the present case, these drugs are often moved first to other Caribbean island territories — particularly the Dominican Republic — before being brought to Puerto Rico. 

The case also shows the important role Puerto Ricans often play in trafficking operations. In recent years, authorities have captured a man known as Puerto Rico’s “most dangerous” trafficker — who like Carrillo allegedly had direct connections with Colombian drug groups –, and a man deemed “the Pablo Escobar of the Caribbean,” who allegedly led a group that moved some 9 tons of cocaine through Puerto Rico into the US.

The fact some of the cocaine run by the present group was distributed in Puerto Rico also highlights the appeal of a local market that has led to the emergence of sophisticated micro-trafficking gangs.

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