US cases reveal new trend in drug smuggling: Gangs buying jets for trans-Atlantic coke flights

CHRIS HAWLEY (Associated Press) | November 15, 2010

NEW YORK — U.S. prosecutors in a series of court cases say they are beginning to unravel the latest innovation in drug smuggling: South American gangs that are buying old jets and other planes, filling them with cocaine and flying them more than 3,000 miles across the ocean to Africa.

At least three gangs have struck deals to fly drugs to West Africa and from there to Europe, according to U.S. indictments.

“The sky’s the limit,” one Sierra Leone trafficker boasted to a Drug Enforcement Administration informant, according to court documents.

Most of the cocaine flown to Africa is bound for Europe, where demand has been rising over the last decade. South American gangs are turning to airplanes because European navies have been intercepting more boat shipments along the African coast, trafficking experts say.

“We started stopping the maritime traffic, basically, so then they started going to air traffic more and more,” said Theodore Leggett, a smuggling expert with the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna.

The U.N. agency began warning about trans-Atlantic drug planes after Nov. 2, 2009, when a burned-out Boeing 727 was found in the desert in Mali. Drug smugglers had flown the jet from Venezuela, unloaded it and then torched it, investigators said.

In the last year, arrests in Africa have begun shedding light on how the air routes work. The cases are being prosecuted in a New York federal court because some of the cocaine was supposed to have been sent to the United States.

“The quantity of cocaine distributed and the means employed to distribute it were extraordinary,” prosecutors wrote in one case. They warned of a conspiracy to “spread vast quantities of cocaine throughout the world by way of cargo airplanes.”

Recent U.S. court cases involving trans-Atlantic flights include:

— The Valencia-Arbelaez Organization, broken up by undercover U.S. agents after it bought a $2 million plane to run monthly flights between Venezuela and Guinea. The group claimed to have six aircraft already flying.

— A ring based in Colombia and Liberia, arrested after one of its planes was seized in May with two tons of cocaine as it prepared to leave Venezuela. Prosecutors say the group was planning to fly shipments twice a month. One defendant claimed to manage five other aircraft making similar hauls.

— Three Sierra Leone men, accused of scouting out airstrips and arranging for a four-ton flight of cocaine from South America in March.

Two other recent cases have involved cocaine and cargo jets, though investigators have not revealed yet whether the flights were going to Africa:

— Francisco Gonzalez Uribe, a Colombian trafficker due to be sentenced this month. He was recorded while trying to purchase large aircraft including a DC-8.

— Walid Makled-Garcia, who prosecutors say controlled airstrips in Venezuela used to launch drug flights. Prosecutors say Makled-Garcia was behind one of the biggest drug plane shipments in recent years: a DC-9 that landed in Mexico in 2006 with more than 12,300 pounds of cocaine on board.

Smugglers are able to fly large planes across the ocean undetected because most of the Atlantic is out of the range of radar, said Scott Decker, a criminology professor at Arizona State University who studies smuggling methods. Even commercial airliners crossing the ocean must periodically update air traffic controllers about their positions because they do not appear on radar screens.

“Going that way, especially from South America, really gets you outside the majority of the security envelope for air traffic,” said Decker.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s decision to sever ties with most U.S. law enforcement agencies in 2005 has made it easier to bring cocaine to staging sites on the Venezuelan coast, said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a fellow at The Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

“The DEA is not present there, the Venezuelan military is making money off it, and much of the territory is just not controlled by the government,” Felbab-Brown said.

Article continues at: http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/sns-ap-us-cocaine-airways,0,3427756.story

Image source: Serge Daniel/AFP/Getty Images

Posted by on Nov 15 2010. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

*

Search Archive

Search by Date
Search by Category
Search with Google

Photo Gallery

Log in |
  • My Kingdom Come – 2015
  • Hispanic Gangs
  • Homies Figures – The Original Homies
  • Prison Gangs
  • The Inside Man – Confidential Informant, Los Angeles Gangs & the LAPD
  • Email
  • Connecticut Drug Threat Assessment report – 2003
  • Dianne Feinstein Report, The Gang Prevention and Effective Deterrence Act: Combating the Spread of Gang Violence – 2003
  • National Alliance of Gang Investigators 2005
  • L.A. Area Terrorized by Marauding Youngsters
  • Other Cities
  • Three persons were killed by shotgun blast in hotel on Vermont Avenue, 1979
  • Jamiel’s Law, proposed by Mayoral candiate Walter Moore
  • MAYOR VILLARAIGOSA, CHIEF BRATTON, AND LOCAL AND FEDERAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES ANNOUNCE MAJOR CRACKDOWN ON L.A. STREET GANGS
  • Los Angeles Police Gang Enforcement Initiaitives – 2007
  • Passing of Vincent A Alonso
  • SG Music Group
  • Crip Gangs
  • Bloods
  • Asian Gangs
  • Forums
  • Shop
  • Injunctions
  • contact
  • Resources