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Two tons of cocaine seized from boat off coast of Costa Rica

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Police in Costa Rica have seized two tons of cocaine from a “low-profile” boat found some 80 nautical miles off the country’s coast.

Costa Rican law enforcement authorities, who described the massive shipment as one of the largest drug confiscations ever made at sea, said they began tracking the vessel in the Pacific Ocean after being handed a tip-off from the US Coast Guard on Wednesday.

Some 2,000 packets of cocaine, each weighing around 1kg, where found when authorities searched the four-motor boat known as a low-profile vehicle (LPV), a type of vessel that is commonly used by drug trafficking networks because they can be difficult to detect using radar.

Speaking before the operation took place last week, Costa Rican Security Minister Michael Soto revealed that cocaine estimated to be worth around $500 million has been seized across the Central American country so far this year.

Announcing that Costa Rican law enforcement agencies had intercepted more than 15 tons of cocaine since the beginning of the year, Soto is reported to have said: “It is important to highlight the joint work carried out by the different police bodies, among them the Judiciary Investigative Police (OIJ), the Direction of Intelligence and Security (DIS), the Frontier Police, Drug Control Police (PCD), Aerial Surveillance Service, National Coast Guard Service, and Public Police Force as well as the assistance of United States in joint patrolling.”

Soto also said police last week found 256kgs of cocaine concealed inside the wall of a container truck that was attempting to leave the country through its border with Nicaragua.

The truck, which had Guatemalan license plates, was transporting metal rubbish and other waste and was stopped at the Peñas Blancas border.

The driver of the vehicle, a 38-year-old Guatemalan national, was arrested and remains in custody.

Costa Rica’s location between South and North America makes it a popular smuggling route for cocaine cartels looking to traffic their product to the US.

Cocaine typically costs around $600 per kilo in the countries in which it is produced, according to Soto.

Once the drug reaches Costa Rica, the price rises to $6,000, before soaring as high as $35,000 per kilo once it arrives in the US.

In its assessment of drug trafficking in Cost Roca, the US State Department said: “Costa Rica ranks third highest in the Western Hemisphere for transshipment of cocaine.

“Once a problem mostly confined to fast boats operating miles off shore, the drug trade has morphed into a proliferation of illegal air tracks, warehousing operations, land smuggling networks, and tainted shipping container traffic.”

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Italian police arrest 23 suspects and recover 10,000 cultural items in archaeological trafficking crackdown

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A major international police operation led by investigators in Italy has resulted in the recovery 10,000 stolen cultural items and the arrest of 23 suspected antiquities smugglers.

Operation Achei was led by the Italian national police force’s Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.

The initiative involved input from several other agencies, including Europol and law enforcement organisations from a number of other countries, namely the UK, Germany and Serbia.

Police in Italy started a probe into the gang’s activities back in 2017 while investigating the looting of archaeological sites in Calabria, southern Italy, where valuable cultural items from the Greek and Roman period were being stolen.

Members of the gang are said to have used bulldozers and metal detectors to locate the items they stole, before selling them on to to a network of buyers across Europe.

Investigators discovered the smuggling network was being run by an organised crime group headed up by a pair of Italian nationals living in the province of Crotone.

The two ringleaders led a network of looters, fences, intermediaries and mules who operated from various locations across Italy, as well as key facilitators working in locations such as Djion, Munich, London and Vršac.

Detectives in Italy said they believe the gang was involved in the illicit trafficking of antique items including vases, jewellery and jars that dated back as far as the 4th century BC.

As well as the arrest of the 23 suspects, the operation also led to a further 80 individuals from the UK, France, Germany and Serbia being placed under investigation.

In a statement, Europol said: “The damage caused to the Italian cultural heritage by this criminal group is very significant as it the criminals were looting archaeological sites for many years.

“Europol Analysis Project FURTUM supported the investigation by coordinating the information exchange, holding several operational meetings, preparing the action day and providing on-the-spot analytical support in Italy to cross-check operational information against Europol’s databases.

“Eurojust supported the execution of the European Investigation Orders and arranged a coordination centre to follow the action in real-time.”

Back in July, a major operation run by Europol and Interpol targeting the trafficking of cultural artefacts involving customs and police officers from 29 countries resulted in the recovery of 18,000 items and the arrest of 59 suspects.

Operation Pandora III saw investigators carry out inspections and raids at numerous locations across the globe, making 49 arrests and imposing 67 administrative sanctions at auction houses, art galleries, museums and private houses.

 

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London drug dealers jailed after frustrated residents forced police to take action with street art

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More than 20 drug dealers have been sentenced after frustrated residents in two London boroughs forced police to take action against them.

People living in Tower Hamlets and Hackney felt they had no option but to take matters into their own hands after police failed to prevent “brazen drug dealing” in the vicinity of their homes, which they claim resulted in needles and blood being left in residential buildings by addicts.

Teaming up with a group of artists calling themselves the Columbia Road Cartel in September last year, the angry residents launched a campaign that involved fake “drug dealer only” signposts and parking bays signs being put up in areas where dealing was rife.

The signs, which were designed to look as though they were legitimate, carried warnings such as “give way to oncoming drug dealers” and “crack pick-up point”.

Speaking with the BBC, Penny Creed, vice-chair of the Columbia Road Tenants’ and Residents’ Association, said last year: “Eight to 10 users congregate on a street waiting for dealers to come past and buy from their car windows.

“Cars and mopeds are mounting kerbs and driving very erratically.

“One local resident’s stepson was knocked over by a drug dealer.

“Users are also accessing some of the residential blocks to use in stairwells, where they often leave needles or even blood.”

Now, the England and Wales Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has announced that 23 drug dealers from the area have been prosecuted as a result of the campaign.

Over the last week, those involved in the fourth and final prosecution of drug dealers from the area were sentenced at Snaresbrook Crown Court.

Julian Haynes, 33, was jailed for four years after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class A drugs, while Brendan Vickers, 26, was handed a three-year sentence after admitting conspiracy to supply class A drugs and two counts of possessing a controlled class A drug with intent.

Jonathan Shepherd, from the CPS, said: “Dealing drugs such as heroin can have devastating consequences for vulnerable people and local communities.

“These defendants showed little consideration for those around them – often openly dealing drugs in the day in front of young children and encouraging aggressive drug users to loiter in the area.

“The different phone lines represented a coordinated effort between various drugs operations to work together to deal dangerous drugs, in effect blighting the local community to such an extent that they felt they had to take action.”

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Florida police arrest 104 in sex trafficking crackdown, including suspects who attempted to buy girl aged 13

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Florida police arrest 104 in sex trafficking crackdown

Police in Florida have arrested more than 100 people over the course of a five-month crackdown on sex trafficking.

During Operation Trade Secrets II, which began in June, investigators from Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office detained a total of 104 people.

Seventy-six of these were men arrested on suspicion of attempting to pay for sexual services, while 28 were women held on suspicion of working in the sex trade.

The first Operation Trade Secrets initiative, which ran from January until June this year, resulted in the detention of 85 people.

As well as focussing on websites and forums known for offering the sale of sexual services, officers taking part in the latest iteration of the operation also turned their attention to strip clubs, massage parlours and motels throughout the county.

In addition, female officers took to the streets to pose as prostitutes in order to catch those looking to pay for sexual services.

Sheriff Chad Chronister used a statement on his office’s website to highlight what he described as two of the “more despicable” cases the force encountered while conducting the operation.

These involved two men, Jason Fitzgerald, 36, and Luis Colon, 29, meeting separately with an undercover detective posing as the stepfather of a 13-year-old girl he was apparently willing to sell for sex.

“Fitzgerald and Colon showed up at a trailer park in North Tampa. They began negotiating a price for sex with the child, and when they were told they could take their pick, having sex with a 14-year-old girl or a 13-year-old girl inside one of the trailers, they jumped at the chance to be with the even younger girl,” said Chronister.

“Predators like this do not belong on the streets of Hillsborough County.”

Both men were arrested and charged with human trafficking for commercial sexual activity, traveling to meet a minor to solicit certain illegal acts and unlawful use of a two-way communications device.

Earlier this month, a coalition of organisations in Miami launched a new outdoor advertising campaign across the city to raise awareness of sex trafficking ahead of the upcoming Super Bowl in February.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of sex trafficking involving the exploitation of children as young as 12 in posters displayed on billboards, at train stations elsewhere.

Miami Super Bowl Host Committee Chairman Rodney Barreto said: “Earlier this year we launched our Stop Sex Trafficking Campaign – an unprecedented effort involving local, state and federal agencies, as well as a significant number of other partners who have come together to combat sex trafficking with new tools and zero tolerance.”

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