Cocaine Chronicles: Caribbean Kilo Drops, Las FARC, and Another Miami Bank Receiving Drug Money

It was a big week for blow here in Miami, with Feds busting both the cocaine supply chain and yet another bank that accepted the illicit proceeds no questions asked.

The first case involves fake passports, smuggled radio equipment, and dramatic, multi-ton ocean drops of cocaine. The second involves bankers in suits pushing the "Accept Transfer" button. But they're flip-sides to the same dirty coin.

And both cases show Miami remains vice central.

A judge unsealed yesterday a July 15 indictment accusing 13 men of airdropping hundreds of kilos of Venezuelan cocaine off the coast of the British Virgin Islands. Only one of the accused, 34-year-old Luis Fernando Velasquez-Ramirez, was arrested in Miami.

Eleven others were collared in New York, the British islands, and Puerto Rico. The group's alleged ringleader, Roberto Mendez-Hurtado, was taken into custody this past Sunday in Cuenca, Ecuador, and deported to Bogota.

According to prosecutors, the group paid unnamed American pilots to fly to Apure, a Venezuelan state near the border with Colombia. According to Colombian newspaper La Semana, leftist guerrilla group las FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) asserts political and economic control in Apure.

The alleged drug runners provided the gringos with fake passports allowing them to enter the country, then loaded the planes with cocaine. Using radio equipment sent from South Florida, the group then guided the drug-filled planes to the British Virgin Island where they dropped massive parcels of coke into the ocean. Speedboats scooped up the yayo and stored in on Normal Island, just a few miles from Puerto Rico and US territory.

The indictment reads like a how-to manual for drug smuggling: find the most corrupt country you can (in the Western Hemisphere, that means Venezuela), bribe some people, set-up shop, ship the stuff to the middle of nowhere, and walk it into the US's backyard.

Booyah: you're a millionaire (and a criminal).

But what to do with your illicit millions? Why, wire it to Ocean Bank!

The Miami-based bank agreed on Monday to pay nearly $11 million to the federal government in a deferred prosecution agreement. Prosecutors say Ocean willfully failed to establish an anti-money laundering program from 2001 through June 2008, allowing Mexican drug cartels to launder at least $11,000,000 via currency exchange houses known as casas de cambio.

"Operation Dirty Dinero," as it was called, closely resembles a similar shake-down of Wachovia back in 2010. The bank agreed to pay $160 million in fines and penalties for similarly accepting what turned out to be Mexican drug money.

So, far from being clean, Miami has just outsourced its cocaine collection of late. Now we plot and orchestrate drug smuggling from the Magic City, and wait for the laundered money to roll in.

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