The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Delaware has announced the indictments of a dozen suspects in a three-year conspiracy to traffic drugs into the country from Panama.
The methods of hiding the drugs included sewing them into the hair weaves of couriers, according to federal prosecutors.
Five of the defendants named in the indictment are Delawareans, three are from Pennsylvania, two are from Maryland and two are from Panama.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Kravetz said three of the defendants are charged with recruiting couriers – primarily women – to travel to Panama to smuggle quantities of cocaine into the United States. Some had sewn the drugs into their shorts to avoid detection, while other quantities were hidden into wigs and hair weaves. Authorities say the couriers would fly to Colon, Panama, pick up quantities of heroin or cocaine, then make their way through various Central American borders to the Texas-Mexico border towns.
“We’re talking trips of nine or ten days long to get back from Panama City and Colon,” Kravetz said.
Kravitz said distribution points were primarily the 500-block of West 6th Street and the 700-block of 9th Street in Wilmington, as well as the Elkton area of Cecil County Maryland. Prosecutors said the conspiracy lasted from September 2008 until June of 2011.
Additionally, officials said at least three shootings have been prosecuted that are linked to the drug conspiracy, according to Wilmington Police Chief Michael Szczerba.
“It’s not just a matter of the drugs, the product that was brought in here. The end result is the violence that we face,” Szczerba added.
According to U.S. Attorney Charles Oberly III, 19 couriers have also been arrested and prosecuted in Panama and the United States in addition to the accused leaders of the drug operation. Five have pleaded guilty in southern Texas, while one has entered a guilty plea in Delaware and awaits sentencing.
Three suspects have been identified as the recruiters of drug couriers: 36-year-old Ronaldo Edmond of Wilmington, 33-year-old Kelvin Cook of Newark, and 39-year-old Julio Archer of Philadelphia.
Also named in the indictment:
31-year-old Efrain Dixon of Colon, Panama
Benjamin Carpenter of Colon, Panama
24-year-old Roumik Banerjee of Kennett Square, PA
32-year-old Mia Poteat of New Castle, DE
23-year-old Tina Simmons of Wilmington, DE
51-year-old Sharon Butera of Elkton, MD
22-year-old Dynisha Revel of Newark, DE
27-year-old Raabia Munjir of Lansdowne, PA
46-year-old Tessa Kay Snyder of North East, MD
The Drug Enforcement Agency, Homeland Security Investigations, and Wilmington Police led the investigation.