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The Voice

Jamaica's cocaine story (Pt III)
published: Tuesday | July 6, 2004

The following is the third instalment in a series focusing on the cocaine smuggling, by Lloyd Williams, noted narco-journalist and The Gleaner's Senior Associate Editor.

'JOSE COLOMBO'

BUT COLOMBIANS dominate the trade. Their job and that of the other traffickers, is to take advantage of the strong demand and high price for cocaine in the U.S., Canada and Europe and get it to the market as fast as possible. To ensure that that happens, they put in the infrastructure and controls that their syndicates require.

Take the case of a Colombian national to whom we shall affix the name 'Jose Colombo', to protect his identity. Bilingual and in his early 30s, he came to Jamaica in the late 1990s and lived all over the country ­ from Kingston to Montego Bay ­ for about five years, overseeing cocaine operations for the Colombian syndicate which assigned him here. As an indication of the seriousness of his mission, Jose Colombo was always armed ­ with an unlicensed, and so illegal, weapon. He packed a Ruger semi-automatic pistol. He used several aliases and had as many passports from as many countries to go with them.

COMPARTMENTALISED

Well-run, highly organised cocaine syndicates are always tightly compartmentalised. They are structured in seemingly seamless layers, akin to the way money is laundered, with members of each tier being given only information that is absolutely essential to them in carrying out their job ­ nothing more, nothing less.

As Jose Colombo stated, his main job here was to receive from Colombia, consignments of cocaine which could range each time from 1,760 lb (800 kilos) to 2,860 lb (1,300 kilos. He received several shipments during his stay here, the cargo usually coming in by go-fast boats. Not only did he take charge of the cocaine on arrival but would also collect the payment for it, the money usually being 90 per cent American currency, with the rest in Jamaican bank notes. The Jamaican currency would usually be used to buy U.S. dollars.

José Colombo stated that the amount of money he collected for payment for each shipment would vary from US$100,000 to US$1 million.

According to him, during his early days in Jamaica, he would send back the cash straight to Colombia, packing it in plastic shampoo bottles, which couriers would take to Colombia using commercial airlines, including COPA, the Panamanian airline, which flies to such Colombian cities as Cartagena, Medellin, and Barranquilla. His syndicate would send its own couriers from Colombia to pick up the cash here.

But he said that from 1999 to the time he left Jamaica, the cash was sent to Panama. To accomplish this, he would rely on a policeman assigned to the Norman Manley International Airport, east Kingston, to get the money through.

UNLAWFUL POSSESSION

Things ran smoothly for a time, according to Jose Colombo, but in 2002 the syndicate began having problems when police here started arresting couriers, charging them with unlawful possession of the large sums of U.S. dollars they were found with.

José Colombo said that shortly after arriving in Jamaica in 1998 he met a Montego Bay businessman whose brother he had known before, and who actually introduced them. The brother who had been his friend, assured the other that he was 'a good boy' and that he should do anything he could for him (José Colombo).

'Anything', according to Jose Colombo, meant the storing and transportation of cocaine and any other action that was required to ensure the safety of the drug and payment for it. José Colombo stated that he, in turn, introduced his Colombian colleagues to his new-found friend to help him transport and sell his cocaine. In addition, he interpreted Spanish for the businessman and moved large sums of American currency for him.

In the cocaine business, as in other areas of criminal activity, traffickers are often called on to help each other. According to José Colombo, in the first quarter of 2002, a Colombian called him from Colombia, and told him that two Venezuelans had been arrested at Sangster International Airport, Montego Bay, while taking US currency out of the country. He pleaded that they wanted their money back and they needed his help. The owner of the money, a Colombian he knew, called him also, stating that he did not want to lose the money which was being sent to Colombia by the Montego Bay businessman to pay for a shipment of cocaine.

CORROBORATION

Reports in The Gleaner of April 2002 corroborated José Colombo's account of the arrest of the two Venezuelan nationals who he had named as Henry Rivas, 40, and Giovani Infante, 31.

According to evidence given at their trial, and in arguments to the Jamaican Court of Appeal, the two were about to board an Air Jamaica flight to Curacao on March 21 when Police Corporal Teeshan Gordon noticed bulges around their thighs. The police searched them, found a total of US$426,000 in tights they were wearing under their trousers, and charged them with unlawful possession of the cash. In Infante's case the cash was in 24 packets in denominations of $100, $50 and $20. Rivas had 24 packets, similarly made up. The two men had arrived in Jamaica just two days before ­ on March 19.

At their trial in the St. James Resident Magistrate's Court, Montego Bay, the Magistrate ordered Infante and Rivas to account for the money. Their defence was that a friend had sent them to Jamaica to collect the money for a house he had sold in Florida, and they had collected it from one Casey in Hanover.

The Magistrate convicted them of unlawful possession of the money, sent each of them to prison for four months, and ordered the cash confiscated.

SAN ANDRES

José Colombo said that when he came to Jamaica from Colombia, he had left behind some Jamaicans whom he had met in San Andres prison. He became friends with one who later returned home and started working for him, picking up money for him in Kingston if he (José Colombo) was in Montego Bay. The Jamaican also moved money from Jamaica to Panama for him, taking US$100,000 to U.S. $300,000 each time. Also, the Jamaican friend would recruit for him, couriers to move money from Jamaica to Panama.

José Colombo stated that he had working for him also, two policemen who used to be with the Anti-Crime Task Force. One, Corporal Fitzroy Barrett, now deceased, used to pick up cocaine in Montego Bay and take it to Kingston for him. The consignments would range from 300 kilos to 400 kilos each (660 lb. to 880 lb.).

He related the story of Cpl. Barrett picking up 200 kilos (440 lb.) of cocaine from a contact in Discovery Bay, St. Ann, and keeping it in his apartment. The other policeman threatened to take away the cocaine because the one who had it was getting "corrupt", (meaning greedy.)

The other cop actually took away the cocaine, plus another 250 kilos (550 lb.), which had been stashed at a house in Portmore, south St. Catherine, which was owned by the cop's girlfriend, who also was a member of the Jamaica Constabulary.

See part IV in tomorrow's Gleaner.

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