(STL.News) – Three Florida men have been charged in a conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine after authorities discovered and seized a shipment with nearly $2 million worth of cocaine.
Juan De Jesus Gutierrez, 45, Jonathan Mejia, 41, and Ricardo Sanchez Ortiz, 46, all of Kissimmee, Fla., are charged in a criminal complaint unsealed in U.S. District Court with Attempt to Possess Cocaine with Intent to Distribute; Conspiracy to Distribute Cocaine; and Conspiracy to Import Cocaine, said Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.
“We applaud the hard work of the law enforcement agencies tasked with interdicting the illegal shipments that traffickers attempt to hide within the massive amounts of vital commercial material,” said U.S. Attorney Christine.
An investigation into contraband shipped from the Dominican Republic led investigators with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Customs and Border Protection and local law enforcement agencies to a shipping container on May 26. A subsequent search discovered approximately 50 kilograms of cocaine concealed inside the walls of cardboard boxes containing fresh oranges.
The street value of the seized drugs is estimated to be $1.75 million.
With the cocaine removed from the shipment, investigators maintained surveillance of the container when it later was picked up and delivered May 29 to a rented warehouse nearby. Gutierrez, Meija and Ortiz were taken into custody when they arrived at the site, opened the container and began unloading the boxes.
The investigation is continuing.
Robert J. Murphy, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division commented, “Whether it’s on the ground, in the air or by sea (as was the case in this investigation), DEA’s commitment to protecting its citizens from the dangers of drugs is unwavering.”
“As the Port of Savannah continues to see growth in volume of cargo processed each year, criminal organizations will continue to try and smuggle their poison into the U.S.,” said acting Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operations in Georgia and Alabama. “Today’s arrests should serve as a warning to those organizations that law enforcement in Savannah will defend our ports and protect our communities.”
“Despite the ongoing health pandemic, our officers have heightened their enforcement efforts for these high-risk commodities, successfully disrupting the flow of deadly narcotics from entering our country,” said Christopher Kennally, Savannah CBP Area Port Director.
“Interdiction efforts such as this play a key role in preventing the entry of illicit drugs into the country,” said Kevin Doyle, Georgia Ports Authority senior director of protective services. “Our Port Police investigators are honored to work with our federal partners to help ensure the safety of our communities and our global logistics network.”
Criminal complaints contain only charges; defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The case is being investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Investigations, Customs and Border Protection, the Savannah-Chatham Counter-Narcotics Task Force, the Georgia Ports Authority Police Department, the Savannah Police Department, and the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office, and prosecuted for the United States by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Marcela C. Mateo and Frank Pennington II.