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Federal Agents Break Up Narcotics Smuggling in the Port of Tampa

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(file photo)

By The Maritime Executive 06-09-2020 04:21:29

Federal agents broke up a drug smuggling operation passing through the Port of Tampa for at least six months in 2018 and 2019.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents at the Port of Tampa In March 2019 inspected a container onboard the Leticia that, according to the ship’s manifest, contained stone blocks typically used for the building of stone fountains. Agents with the Department of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) imaged the blocks and observed that several of them contained anomalies. After breaching the blocks, the agents uncovered 14 large packages that had been shrink-wrapped with black carbon paper, which contained more than 50 kilograms of methamphetamine and 3 kilograms of heroin.

HSI agents later observed the blocks being loaded into a yellow rental truck and followed the truck as it exited the Port of Tampa and continued to Atlanta, Georgia. Two Mexican nationals, Nestor Vazquez-Morales and Adan Martinez-Onofre, were attested as they attempted to offload the truck outside a residential home.

Agents searched the residence and seized approximately two kilograms of heroin, three firearms (including a rifle), $12,725 in U.S. currency, and one stone block that was identical to the blocks discovered in the Port of Tampa. Next to the stone block, agents found some clear plastic wrapping that contained a square white sticker with black letters displaying the message “Hecho en Mexico” (Made in Mexico). This same sticker was also found on the narcotics in the Port of Tampa.

Cellphones obtained from the individuals showed that Yolanda Herrera, who flew from Tampa to Atlanta after the shipment had arrived in Tampa, was actively planning and coordinating the pickup of the narcotics from the port to their eventual destination.

The subsequent investigation determined that Herrera rented six other trucks between October 2018 and March 2019. During that time, Herrera’s co-conspirators completed seven shipments on the Leticia, all of which departed from Mexico, arrived in Tampa, and were identified as stone fountains in the cargo manifest. GPS data obtained from the rental trucks showed that the trucks were all rented in Tampa, and dropped off in Atlanta, with stops at the same Atlanta residence.

Herrera was arrested in Atlanta and during an interview with the Federal agents, she admitted that she had been hired and paid to coordinate, supervise, and organize the transportation of narcotics sent from Mexico to Tampa, and to deliver them to Georgia. Federal agents searched Herrera’s home and found a stone block in her backyard. That stone block contained the same “Hecho en Mexico” sticker as the stone blocks shipped on the Leticia.

According to the U.S. District Attorney's Office, Herrera pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and heroin, and attempted possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and heroin. She is awaiting sentencing, at which time she faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The two men arrested driving the vehicle both also plead guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and heroin, and possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and heroin.