Panamanian Drug Gang and Swallowers Nailed by NYPD
by Jim Kouri, CPP
New York City police officers arrested leaders and members of a drug gang involved in a narcotics enterprise that used dozens of "swallowers" to transport heroin from Panama into the United States.
"Swallowers," are drug couriers who rent out their bodies as cargo containers, each carrying upwards of a kilo, or 2.2 pounds, of packaged narcotics. Body packing is on the rise and getting more sophisticated, according to narcotics officers. Increased airport security has caused some drug cartels to shift a majority of their small shipments out of carry-on baggage and into the less easily searched internal compartments of the "mule."
The recent New York indictments charged Carlos Antonio Zaldivar Robinson, Lee Omar Dean Jerome, Luis Alberto Fruto Lay and Mark Anthony Lowe, four leaders in Panama who oversaw the recruitment of both American and Panamanian swallowers or mules.
In New York, Bronx-based Silverio Guzman, the head of the organization's cell, coordinated the distribution of heroin. Also indicted were a Panamanian and an American citizen who smuggled ingested heroin, three other members of the transportation organization, a Bronx-based heroin supplier, and three local drug traffickers who resold the drugs throughout New York City.
The international investigation identified Silverio Guzman as the main target in New York. Guzman actively recruited swallowers, arranged for the trips under the guidance of the Panamanian bosses, made arrangements to retrieve the heroin from the swallowers and supplied heroin to local dealers.
For nine months, surveillance and wiretap operations traced the comings and goings of swallowers, including the two indicted today, as they traveled routinely from Latin America to the United States transporting pellets full of heroin.
On September 10, 2005, swallower Daniel Hinestroza was arrested in Panama by Panamanian authorities with the assistance of Drug Enforcement agents in Panama. Hinestroza, who had swallowed 84 pellets containing over 1/2 kilogram of heroin was on his way to New York City. During the investigation, another courier, Juan Castillo, traveled to and from the United States and Venezuela, Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, England, Holland and France on approximately 22 different occasions.
Records show the cartel paid an average of $8,000 for a kilogram of heroin in Panama which re-sold wholesale for more than $50,000 in New York City, and could potentially have a street value of $300,000 on the streets of the city. Swallowers were paid a fee plus airfare and hotel expenses per trip. The fee could go up to as much as $10,000 depending on how many heroin pellets an individual swallower could transport.
During the investigation, agents seized over 3 kilos of heroin in Manhattan, Bronx and Brooklyn. In addition, recovered wire receipts recorded money transfers of over $300,000 from the United States to Panama.
NYPD detectives and DEA agents began arresting defendants named on the indictments at the same time that Panamanian authorities apprehended targets in Panama including the cartel leaders.
New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said during a press conference: "Heroin remains an enemy of public safety and family stability in New York and everywhere. I want to congratulate the [NYPD] police officers and the DEA agents for their dedicated and dangerous work. I also want to commend Bridget Brennan for her first-rate public service as Special Narcotics Prosecutor."
Most of the time, the drug pellets are recovered from the stool of the swallowers, but there are times they are killed and gutted to retrieve drug shipments.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.