St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s deputies along with DEA agents and deputies in other sheriff’s offices, arrested six foreign nationals and seized nearly 200 pounds of cocaine June 13, in Norco.
After an extensive investigation including surveillance, deputies of the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office arrested Joe Pabon Vacellia, age 35, a citizen of Colombia, Javier Renteria, age 27, a citizen of Colombia, John Martinez, age 54, a citizen of Puerto Rico, Carlos Enrique Santiago-Caparros, age 32, a citizen of Puerto Rico, Fortunato Albornoz, age 35, a citizen of Colombia, and Javier Colon, age 32, a citizen of Puerto Rico, were charged yesterday in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute approximately 83 kilograms of cocaine hydrochloride, a Schedule II narcotic drug controlled substance, which the men had smuggled into the United States via a petroleum vessel docked at the Valero Refinery dock.
The cocaine had been sent by a Columbian drug organization and was destined for the Houston, Texas area.
Two men were stowaways in the rudder housing of the vessel and accompanied the drug shipment to Norco. They unloaded the drugs from the vessel and joined with the other traffiickers and were subsequently arrested by officers of the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, DEA agents and deputies with other law enforcement agencies in St. Martin Parish.
If convicted the men face imprisonment ranging from 10 years to life in prison.
“The seizure of this amount of cocaine and these arrests are quite possibly the most significant international drug trafficking case in the history of St. Charles Parish.” Greg Champagne, of the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office said in an official report.
“While this case didn’t originate in St. Charles Parish, we were able to stop a large amount of cocaine from getting into this country,” Champagne said.
The arrest validates the use of interagency task forces, in which various departments contribute agents that beef up staffing and improve communication between the federal agencies and local departments, Champagne said.
The St. Charles Sheriff’s Office provided much of the manpower that enabled the task force to put the men under surveillance before their capture.
Last year, it worked the other way, when an Ecstasy distribution case that originated in St. Charles was expanded into other states by the task force, Champane said.
“Because we have local people on their task force, we can help them with manpower and they can supply us with additional resources when we have them,” he said.
The affidavit filed in connection with the case says that the Drug Enforcement Administration got a tip that the tanker, Matterhorn Star, which left Venezuela for the St. Charles Refinery on June 5, was carrying two stowaways in the ship’s rudder compartment, which is possible to enter when the ship is riding high in the water, said Rich Daniels, assistant special agent in charge of the DEA’s New Orleans office.
Authorities say the men stayed in the compartment for the ship’s week-long journey to the refinery, most likely carrying the cocaine in three duffel bags. The stowaways apparently met four other men on shore and all six were arrested in St. Martin Parish by DEA agents who had been following them down Interstate 10.
“That’s what’s kind of puzzling us — that they stopped here first,” DEA spokesman Michael Sanders said. “Usually, it’s safer if they stow away on a ship that’s going directly to Houston or wherever they’re going.”
Investigators believe the drugs were shipped into the country by an international drug trafficking organization based in Colombia.
The arrested were Joe Pabon Vallecilla, 35, a citizen of Colombia; Javier Renteria, 27, a citizen of Colombia; John Martinez, 54, a citizen of Puerto Rico; Carlos Enrique Santiago-Caparros, 32, a citizen of Puerto Rico; Fortunato Albornoz, 35, a citizen of Colombia,; and Javier Colon, 32, a citizen of Puerto Rico. They were charged Thursday in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute approximately 83 kilograms of cocaine hydrochloride, a Schedule II narcotic drug controlled substance.
If convicted, the men could face sentences of between 10 years and life in prison.
The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The task force includes members of the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office, the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office, St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office, St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, United States Coast Guard, Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s, Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, New Orleans Police Department, Louisiana State Police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement