Miami-Dade County

Informant helps feds uncover plan for drug smuggling network

Hooded DEA agent stand guard over a cocaine shipment intercepted within a shipment of asphalt from Venezuela.
Hooded DEA agent stand guard over a cocaine shipment intercepted within a shipment of asphalt from Venezuela. Miami Herald Archive

A trip to Colombia by a federal government informant in January helped uncover plans for a new illegal network to smuggle cocaine and heroin from South America to Mexico, Miami and New York, according to federal court documents.

The informant’s Jan. 18 trip to Cali, 187 miles southwest of Bogotá, led to the arrest in early February in Miami and New York of four individuals who later were charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and heroin, according to court records.

The defendants — Tatiana Becerra-Zuñiga, 28; Fernando Rodríguez, 45; Diego Castro, 43 and Sirley Castro, 33 — are now awaiting trial after being indicted and pleading not guilty.

DEA said it could not comment on the case because it was still ongoing in court. Most of the defense attorneys in the case could not be reached for comment.

But Rodríguez’s attorney, Joel DiFabio, said: “I am confident that after a thorough investigation of the facts and allegations, it will become apparent that Mr. Rodríguez is not the experienced narcotics trafficker portrayed in the complaint.”

The case is outlined in a criminal complaint filed by a special agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Miami federal court.

As explained in the complaint, during the week of Jan. 18, a DEA informant traveled from Miami to Cali to meet Becerra-Zuñiga and associates in connection with a plan to smuggle cocaine out of Colombia.

Becerra-Zuñiga told the informant, described in the complaint as a confidential source or CS, that she had customers in New York and Mexico willing to purchase cocaine.

When the informant told Becerra-Zuñiga he had 150 kilos of cocaine available in Miami, she said her New York customers would be interested in buying the drug, according to the DEA complaint.

“The CS said that if Becerra-Zuñiga’s customers were to purchase a significant portion, the CS would invest a portion of the proceeds into the next 500 kilogram production of cocaine,” the complaint says.

Becerra-Zuñiga then offered to bring the money back to Cali from Miami after the deal, according to the complaint.

The informant and Becerra-Zuñiga stayed in contact, and on Jan. 29, she flew to Miami International Airport (MIA) where she was picked up by the informant, under DEA surveillance, according to the complaint.

The two went to lunch at a restaurant to discuss the pending transaction, the complaint says. During the conversation, Becerra-Zuñiga revealed to the informant that her New York customers were en route to Fort Lauderdale from New York to finalize the deal, according to the complaint.

At that point, according to the complaint, the informant and Becerra-Zuñiga traveled to Fort Lauderdale to greet her arriving customers whom court records identified as Rodríguez and the Castros, a husband-wife team.

The four then went to a coffee shop in Hollywood to continue the negotiations, the complaint says.

Rodríguez told the informant, according to the complaint, that he would pay for the drug after it was delivered because his money was “tied up” in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic.

Diego Castro revealed to the informant that the group delivered cocaine to customers through a limo service in New York, up to 25 kilos at a time, according to the complaint.

Rodríguez then asked the informant whether he had access to heroin because he also was interested in buying that, according to the complaint.

Eventually, the informant and his visitors agreed on a cocaine-heroin package deal involving 10 kilos of cocaine at $26,000 per kilo and one kilo of heroin for $46,000, plus a $1,000 delivery fee, according to the complaint.

On Feb. 1, Becerra-Zuñiga told the informant that Diego Castro would travel to New York and secure $100,000 as a down payment for the deal, according to the complaint.

The informant said an associate, actually a DEA undercover agent, would receive the $100,000, according to the complaint.

Once the money changed hands, the informant met Becerra-Zuñiga, Rodríguez and Sirley Castro at the Dolphin Mall on Feb. 2 and said he had the drugs in his vehicle, according to the complaint, which noted that the narcotics were fake.

After the group inspected the contents of three bags in the vehicle, they each grabbed one bag and began to walk away, the complaint said.

At that point agents arrested the defendants.