Big drug arrest on Caribbean cruise ship
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A suburban body shop owner accused of helping to run one of the largest drug smuggling organizations in the Caribbean was arrested Monday as he took a family vacation on a cruise ship.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents had been tracking Jorge Luis Figueroa Agosto as part of an investigation into the organization allegedly led by his older brother, Jose Figueroa Agosto, the so-called "Pablo Escobar of the Caribbean," who was captured in July in Puerto Rico after an intensive manhunt.
Federal agents fanned out across Puerto Rico on Monday seeking to arrest 17 alleged members of the organization. But Luis Figueroa had boarded the Caribbean Princess with his wife, two children and in-laws before the operation began.
Agents waiting on board the ship arrested him without incident before the ship reached its first port-of-call in the U.S. Virgin Islands, said John Morton, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Authorities simultaneously arrested 11 others sought in a federal indictment and the rest were being sought.
Morton said it was a major blow to an organization that transported large amounts of South American cocaine in luxury boats from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico, where other groups sold it locally or shipped it on to the U.S. mainland through airport couriers and shipping containers.
"There are other drug trafficking organizations but this is one of the biggest," Morton said.
The arrest of the elder brother had been a law enforcement coup. Jose Figueroa, 45, had escaped prison in his native Puerto Rico and was the Dominican Republic's most wanted man for a decade. He pulled off several narrow escapes and taunted police over the radio. Like Escobar, the 1980s drug kingpin of Colombia, he became rich, owning a fleet of luxury cars and a ranch with a private zoo.
His younger brother, who officials said is about 40, was not well known. He lived an apparently law-abiding existence in Bayamon, near San Juan, as the owner of a body shop with no other known criminal offenses, said Roberto Escobar Vargas, special agent in charge of ICE investigations in Puerto Rico. But authorities said he and his brother were at the top of the organization.
Jorge Luis Figueroa was expected to be transferred back to Puerto Rico later Monday for arraignment. He had not yet hired an attorney or entered a plea.
The others charged along with him are accused of a variety of roles in the organization, including shipping drugs and laundering profits through real estate and other business deals.