Crime

Drug-traffickers in Ecuador are hiding cocaine in shipments to Miami

Cocaine packets, similar to those in the photo, have arrived in Miami from Ecuador.
Cocaine packets, similar to those in the photo, have arrived in Miami from Ecuador. AFP/Getty Images

Last May 5, a package arrived in Miami containing a large stainless steel mixer.

When customs officials checked the mixer they found a white liquid substance that turned out to be cocaine. In the follow-up, investigators discovered a drug-trafficking ring that intended to transport the cocaine to New York, according to federal court records.

It’s also evident from a criminal complaint in the case that some drug-traffickers in Ecuador are hiding cocaine shipments in ordinary objects.

Just five days earlier, on May 1, another package arrived in Miami from Ecuador containing a laptop computer with cocaine hidden in the screen.

Whether the two cases are connected is unclear. The criminal complaint in the latest case does not say if there’s a link to the laptop case and the federal agency in charge of the investigation declined comment because the cases are still active in court.

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is investigating both the laptop computer case and the mixer package.

Other than the fact that both the mixer and the laptop came from Ecuador, there are few similarities in how the two cases unfolded after the packages were received in Miami.

In the May 1 case, the laptop arrived in a package at Miami International Airport (MIA) where Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers flagged it for closer inspection and opened it.

When they ran the laptop through an x-ray machine, it showed an “unusual density” within the screen. The laptop was removed from the package and the x-ray revealed the presence of three bags within the screen — all containing a white powdery substance that turned out to be approximately 250 grams of cocaine.

Then, undercover officers delivered the package to an address in Miami where they arrested a suspect, Ricardo Sánchez. He has since pleaded not guilty and is now awaiting trial.

Unlike Sánchez, who initially did not provide much information to federal investigators, agents in the mixer case learned that the cocaine was going to be transported to New York, according to an HIS criminal complaint. The investigators also managed to lure one of the suspected traffickers to Miami to retrieve the cocaine found in the package, according to the criminal complaint.

After CBP officers discovered the cocaine in the mixer, HIS was summoned and a special agent, acting undercover, contacted people listed in the shipping labels. One of those people agreed to travel to Miami to pick up the drug, according to the criminal complaint. It didn’t say where the suspect was coming from.

The suspect, later identified as Jonathan Azua arrived at MIA on June 12 and checked in at the Red Roof Inn near the airport, the complaint said. Shortly after Azua and the undercover agent met, the suspect was arrested.

In post-arrest interrogations, Azua, 45, told investigators he had agreed with a co-conspirator to transport the cocaine to New York on a bus in exchange for $10,000, the complaint said. It did not identify the co-conspirator.

Separately, CBP officers at MIA last week seized more than four ounces of cocaine concealed inside spray canisters in a shipment arriving from Uruguay.

According to a CBP statement, officers found the canisters in a package that ostensibly contained ornaments and a rosary.

Follow Alfonso Chardy on Twitter @AlfonsoChardy

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