US law enforcement officials seized more than one tonne of cocaine allegedly shipped to the New York area from Puerto Rico, the largest bust of the drug in the region in over a decade, authorities said on Tuesday.
The bust comes as authorities grapple with a 150% increase in cocaine seizures over the past year in the area, said Ray Donovan, the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s special agent in charge for the New York division.
Cocaine availability nationwide in 2019 dropped 14% from the prior year and hit its lowest level in six years, and supply remained largely steady throughout 2020, according to a March 2021 DEA report.
“This seizure signifies a shift in the illegal drug landscape in New York,” Donovan said in a statement.
The 920kg of cocaine seized could have a street value of between US$37 million and US$370 million, depending on the retail level, according to a person familiar with the case.
In an indictment filed on Monday, federal prosecutors accused three men – Jorge Aponte-Guzman, Nelson Agramonte-Minaya and Carlos Maisonet-Lopez – of drug trafficking conspiracy in relation to the seized drugs.
Officials found the cocaine packaged inside large metal lawn rollers in a rental van that Aponte-Guzman drove from a New Jersey loading dock to a residence, prosecutors said. Shipping records showed the rollers were sent from Puerto Rico to an address in the Bronx, they added.
Defence attorneys for Aponte-Guzman and Maisonet-Lopez did not immediately respond to requests for comment. An attorney for Agramonte-Minaya declined to comment.
Damian Williams, the new US Attorney for the Southern District of New York sworn in last month, referred to the amount of cocaine seized as a “massive quantity of dangerous drugs.”