MANALAPAN, N.J. – A couple ran a cocaine smuggling ring from their fortress-like multimillion-dollar home and amassed so many luxury goods that the wife needed photos to keep track of her 100 pairs of Prada shoes, authorities said Monday.
Vicente Esteves, 35, and his wife, Chantal, 30, were arrested on conspiracy and money laundering charges after a 14-month investigation, federal and county officials said.
The $1 million-a-week operation used commercial airline flights to move drugs from Mexico and Colombia into the United States and to send millions of dollars back, investigators said.
Authorities also described the opulent lifestyle the couple led behind the gates of their home in New Jersey horse country.
The couple "attempted to hide behind the beauty of suburbia," said Gerard McAleer, special agent in charge of the DEA's New Jersey office.
"It's like something out of the movie 'Scarface,"' McAleer said. "They had walk-in closets where there were 100 pairs of Prada shoes, still in the boxes. There were so many they had Polaroid photos taped to the boxes to keep track of them.
"There were also 100 Rolex watches," McAleer said. "I'm not sure Donald Trump has 100 Rolex watches. That's the kind of money that was being made."
The investigation began last year when the DEA got a tip that a large-scale drug ring was operating out of Manalapan, an enclave of wealthy homeowners, many of whom had fled the urban ills of New York or northern New Jersey.
The cocaine wound up in New Jersey, Florida, Georgia and other states, authorities said. To launder the proceeds, Vicente Esteves used two real estate companies that had no legitimate business, Monmouth County Prosecutor Luis Valentin said.
Seven people have been arrested so far, and the case is ongoing, investigators said. One of the defendants was arrested Friday with $100,000 in cash aboard a commercial flight preparing to depart Newark for Miami, authorities said.
None of the defendants had retained a lawyer as of Monday afternoon, according to the prosecutor's office.
All told, authorities said they seized 150 pounds of cocaine with a street value of $2 million, plus $2 million in cash.
Vicente Esteves was being held on $10 million bail, his wife on $5 million. Each could get 30 years if convicted.