US seeks 29 drug-trafficking suspects accused of operating in Puerto Rico, Florida, Colombia



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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — U.S. authorities on Thursday issued arrest warrants for 29 suspects in Puerto Rico, Florida and Colombia who are accused of running a multimillion-dollar drug-trafficking ring.

The U.S. Justice Department said the suspects were charged with importing large quantities of cocaine into the United States and laundering millions of dollars in revenue from November 2010 through September 2012.

Officials said 12 of the suspects were arrested in Puerto Rico and another nine would be extradited from Colombia to face trial in the U.S. territory. At least two of the suspects already were serving sentences in federal prison.

The suspects are accused of smuggling drugs from Colombia to Puerto Rico via Venezuela using go-fast boats that would meet other vessels just south of the U.S. territory. Officials said sometimes the boats would travel directly from Venezuela to the tiny Puerto Rican island of Vieques, where the drugs then would be transported via commercial ferry to the main island.

Authorities said a portion of the cocaine was sold in Puerto Rico and the remainder transported to New York. They said drug sale revenues would be sent back to Colombia in various ways, including wire transfers to banks in Panama and China and by couriers who would carry thousands of dollars in cash.

The arrests come as the amount of cocaine flowing through the Caribbean has more than doubled in the past three years, with federal authorities estimating that 100 tons (91 metric tons) flowed through the region in 2013. Earlier this month, the Obama administration unveiled the first federal plan of its kind that outlines how authorities plan to crack down on drug trafficking specifically in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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