Crime

Cocaine found in man’s groin at MIA leads to arrest, discovery of drug ring

Holiday travelers sit, sleep, and relax while waiting to depart from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Terminal 1 on Monday.
Holiday travelers sit, sleep, and relax while waiting to depart from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Terminal 1 on Monday. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The arrest of a Colombian at Miami International Airport who hid seven cocaine-filled pellets in his groin area eventually led to the discovery of a drug-trafficking ring involving suspects in Colombia and South Florida, according to Miami federal court documents.

Daniel Restrepo’s arrest March 30 after he arrived from Medellín, Colombia, aboard an Avianca Airlines jet set off the chain of events that eventually led to the detention of a South Florida woman — Karen Blandon — who allegedly was the key South Florida contact of a Colombian drug smuggler, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court.

It was the most recent DEA case involving a major drug-trafficking case in South Florida. Six South Florida men are now awaiting trial in Miami federal court on drug charges following a yearlong investigation during which DEA agents unraveled a major cocaine trafficking network in Hialeah. The six men, all from various cities in Miami-Dade and Broward, were arrested in late March after teams of DEA agents followed them between their homes and warehouses in the Hialeah area where they kept the drug, according to a criminal complaint filed in court.

The case involving Blandon and Restrepo began March 30 when Restrepo arrived from Medellin.

Restrepo cleared passport control without problems but drew the attention of customs officers.

“During an examination of Restrepo’s person, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers discovered seven pellets of a white powdery substance concealed in Restrepo’s groin area,” according to a criminal complaint filed in Miami federal court. “A field test of the white powdery proved positive for the presence of cocaine.”

CBP officials estimated the weight of the cocaine in the pellets at about 245 grams, according to the criminal complaint filed by a special agent of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a unit of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

After being arrested, a criminal complaint says, Restrepo agreed to cooperate with investigators.

He disclosed that he was promised $5,000 to $6,000 for transporting the cocaine from Medellín, Colombia, and that once here he was to send a text message to a person in Colombia to obtain information about a conctact in Miami who wold receive the drug.

Investigators instructed Restrepo to send the text message and the individual in Colombia replied with the name Kevin, description of a black Honda Accord and a telephone number, the complaint said.

Restrepo then called the Miami contact and proposed meeting at the Dolphin Mall for delivery of the drug, the complaint said.

A team of HSI undercover agents escorted Restrepo in an undercover car to the rendezvous while another team set up a surveillance perimeter.

“A black Honda Accord arrived at the Dolphin Mall and the driver of the black Honda Accord got into the undercover vehicle,” the complaint said. “The individual inspected and received the narcotics.”

The person who arrived in the Honda Accord was Kevin Franco, according to the complaint.

“After receiving the drugs, Franco exited the vehicle where he was subsequently arrested,” the complaint says.

After his arrest, Franco agreed to help investigators track other members of the drug-smuggling ring, according to the complaint.

Franco revealed to investigators that Colombian individual who called him used the alias “Palma.” An agent then used Franco’s phone to text Palma in Colombia to find out what to do with the drugs.

Palma texted back, saying he would call Franco on the phone. Franco answered the call as HSI special agents listened.

Palma told Franco that the next day, a woman named Karen would pick up the drugs.

When Karen Blandón contacted Franco, she told him to meet her at a Walgreens at the corner of Northwest 17th Avenue and Northwest 7th Street in Little Havana.

An undercover agent drove to the Walgreens and waited for Blandón.

When she arrived, Blandón asked where Franco was. The HSI agent replied that Franco was inside the Walgreens.

Blandon then climbed aboard the undercover agent’s car. The HIS agent handed Blandón a small plastic bag containing the drugs, according to the complaint. Blandón then put the bag inside her purse and exited the vehicle. She was arrested then, but agreed to talk to investigators.

Initially, the complaint said, Blandón explained that she was there merely to pick up Franco, not drugs. But later she acknowledged that she had been told to meet Franco and get the drugs from him, the complaint said.

Blandón, Franco and Restrepo have been indicted and are now awaiting trial.

HIS said it could not comment on the case because it’s still under investigation.

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