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ICE gets in smuggling ring’s hair

Drugs under wig

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents helped break up a U.S./Panamanian heroin smuggling ring by looking closely at suspected drug couriers’ coiffures.

Twelve people from Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland and the country of Panama were charged in a 20-count indictment alleging international drug trafficking after a three-year investigation that involved U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), as well as federal and local law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and Panama.

The investigation, said ICE on Dec. 22, was a game of cat and mouse, with the drug smugglers adapting to law enforcement and immigration authorities’ investigative tactics. According to the indictment and court statements, U.S.-based defendants Ronaldo Edmund, Kelvin Cook and Julio Archer recruited mostly female couriers to travel to Panama to smuggle kilograms of heroin and cocaine from Panama to the U.S. Once in Panama, the couriers met with Panama-based defendants Benjamin Carpenter and Efrain Dixon, where they were outfitted with cocaine and heroin, said ICE. Most of the couriers smuggled the drugs in small compartments sewn into Lycra shorts in an effort to avoid law enforcement detection, said court documents. After a number of couriers using that method were arrested, the organization began concealing the drugs within hair weaves and wigs, according to the records. Regardless of the smuggling methods, said ICE, once the couriers received the drugs they traveled by bus or airplane to Mexico, where they ultimately crossed or attempted to cross the U.S. border in Texas border towns.

A federal judge said on Dec. 22 that each of the 12 defendants face two counts of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine and one kilogram or more of heroin. The indictment also charges them with conspiracy to smuggle five kilograms of cocaine and one kilogram or more of heroin into the United States. For each of the offenses, said ICE, they face a maximum term of life in prison, with a mandatory minimum term of 10 years in prison.

"Due to the cooperative efforts of the DEA and its law enforcement partners, a major regional smuggling organization has been identified, and its members brought to justice,” said DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge Vito Guarino. “In this instance, the defendants used well-planned techniques to smuggle large amounts of cocaine and heroin into the region over an extended period. However, their efforts failed due the combined efforts of the participating law enforcement agencies."


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