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Wednesday, April 24 2019 @ 08:29 PM UTC

Colombian drug kingpin nabbed in Brazil

Crime & Punishment Federal authorities in Miami today announced the arrest of a reputed Colombian drug kingpin who headed a now-dismantled smuggling syndicate charged with supplying more than 15 tons of Colombian cocaine a month into the United States and Europe. Operation Twin Oceans, a three-year multi-agency probe, snared Pablo Rayo-Montano, one of the U.S. government's most-wanted drug traffickers, along with 100 associates, according to R. Alexander Acosta, interim U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. ''This was a worldwide drug ring,'' Acosta said at an afternoon press conference. Federal agents confiscated 52 tons of cocaine and $70 million in ''ill-gotten assets'' from his organization, they said. Rayo-Montano, also known as ''El Loco,'' is the lead defendant among 32 Colombians and others named in a drug-trafficking indictment unsealed today in Miami federal court. Of those, 21 suspects including Rayo-Montano were arrested on Tuesday in the United States, Colombia, Brazil and Panama, authorities said. The defendants will be tried in Miami on charges of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States. LUISA YANEZ and JAY WEAVER

In breaking up his organization, Drug Enforcement Administration and foreign agents confiscated a booty of high-end properties owned in Miami and elsewhere by the Rayo-Montano organization.

Among them: three islands off the coast of Panama, yachts, fishing trawlers, art galleries, the largest fishing and boating store in Panama, and other commercial properties.

''Operation Twin Oceans sends a strong message from the U.S. Department of Justice to narcotics traffickers: we will seize your ill-gotten property, and we will take away the rewards of your violent trade,'' Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Department of Justice Criminal Division said in a prepared statement to the media.

An international coalition spearheaded by the DEA, the Brazilian Federal Police, Panamanian Judicial Police and the Colombian National Police began making arrests earlier this week.

Rayo-Montano was taken into custody at his residence earlier today by the Sensitive Investigations Unit (SIU) of the Brazilian Federal Police in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He remains in Brazil pending extradition.

''As well-equipped and complex as this enterprise was, it was a matter of time before law enforcement caught on, and now Rayo-Montano's decadent, drug-funded lifestyle has caught up with him,'' DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy said in a press release. ``This morning, his real estate holdings went from three islands to one jail cell.''

Federal prosecutors said the Colombia-based organization had ``its own private, rogue navy to run a drug business that was nearly as sophisticated as a small nation.''

Drug shipments originated on both the Atlantic and Pacifi coasts of Colombia, using fast boats, fishing boats, submersibles, and containerized cargo vessels. Thus, the name of the investigation, ''Twin Oceans.'' The root of Rayo-Montano case began in March 2002 when the Office of the Attorney General announced a comprehensive six-part drug enforcement strategy designed to identify international kingpins and quash their enterprises. Rayo-Montano was among those targeted.

Agents said Rayo-Montano had started out as a drug transporter in Buenaventura, Colombia, almost two decades ago and eventually built a worldwide criminal cartel, which included production, international smuggling, wholesale distribution and money laundering.

At dawn Tuesday, members of the Rayo-Montano organization were awakened with the execution of arrest and search warrants by international, federal, state and local law enforcement officers.

Indictments were returned by grand juries supervised by the United States Attorney's Office in the Southern District of Florida and the U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section in Washington D.C.

The charges include conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute cocaine, as well as money laundering.
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