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Hampton Roads law enforcement involved in $33 million cocaine bust

Counterfeit coupon scheme charges
Posted at 12:39 PM, Feb 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-24 15:00:56-05

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Law enforcement officers from Hampton Roads were part of a team that recently uncovered $33 million worth of cocaine out in the ocean.

DEA agents and Homeland Security officers from Hampton Roads have been working to prevent maritime drug smuggling operations since June 2018, according to federal documents.

The goal is to stop maritime drug smuggling operations from reaching the United States.

The United States Coast Guard issued a statement to News 3 about an arrest made back on January 24. While on routine patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, a Maritime Patrol Aircraft located three panga-style vessels suspected of smuggling illegal narcotics.

According to the USCG, the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf was diverted to the area and launched its small boat and helicopter to intercept the vessels.

One of the vessels started to travel away at a high rate of speed, but stopped after the helicopter fired warning shots.

In total, the Bertholf seized approximately 1,780 pounds of cocaine from two of the vessels, worth an estimated $33.7 million.

Legal analyst Sonny Stallings is not directly involved in the case, but says from his previous experience the people on the boats are not the ones running the show.

“It'd be very rare to see one of the big dogs, if you will, on one of these open boats trying to smuggle it in,” Stallings said. “They’re somewhere in the background, but he's probably not on that boat.”

He said the men are looking at significant jail time.

All four men on the two different boats, Julio Luis Rosado Benitez, Manuel Alexi Quijije Mero, Oscar Arcenio Sanchez Garcia and Kevin Antonio Franco Bonilla, were taken into custody and claimed to be from Ecuador.

The suspects are headed to Hampton Roads to be tried in a federal courthouse.