Judge remands 4 men in cocaine case

Published February 10, 2007

TAMPA - The plan sounds like something out of a TV crime drama.

One hundred fifty pounds of cocaine cut in blocks, strung together and slid inside hollow steel beams that run the length of an empty car transporter.

A driver travels from Mexico to Tampa, where the drugs will be exchanged for money, weapons and a truckload of pickups and sport utility vehicles.

One glitch: The cops are watching.

The spoilers told Circuit Judge Walter Heinrich on Friday why four men accused of hatching and carrying out the sophisticated transfer of so much cocaine last month should remain in jail until their trials.

Saying he had no reasonable alternative, the judge ordered the four men to be held on pretrial detention.

A no-bail hold on inmates is typically ordered for capital crimes like murder. But Florida law allows people accused of drug trafficking to be held if there is substantial evidence against them and no other way to ensure they show up for trial.

Jose Bernardo Garcia, Abed Martin, Ariel Malagon and Oscar Dopico were each arrested this month on charges of racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering and trafficking in cocaine.

In court Friday, Tampa police undercover narcotics detectives said they monitored the organization for 1 1/2 years. Prosecutor Darrell Dirks said the defendants were major players in a group that had direct contact with cartel leaders south of the border.

Police started their investigation focusing on Martin, an unemployed Tampa man, and determined that he and Garcia were collecting money for the cocaine shipment and sending it to Mexico, detectives testified.

Garcia, 43, who worked under the alias "El Loco" and had residences in Texas and Mexico, emerged as the ringleader, detectives said.

Detectives monitored about 40 calls between Garcia and associates, conducted in Spanish and in code, police said. They said he used his 17-year-old daughter to keep tabs on the people who worked for him and to guard weapons slated for Mexico.

Border records show that Garcia, Dopico and Malagon all legally crossed from Mexico to Texas on Jan. 17. Police did not witness Dopico and Malagon picking up the cocaine but suspected that they did.

On Jan. 20, a transport truck carrying no vehicles stopped in Tampa. Detectives were there to meet it, Dirks said. They found the cocaine hidden in the transporter's frame and arrested Malagon, the driver. After being read his rights, he told detectives that the transporter and cocaine belonged to Garcia, they said.

On Sunday, police also found a semitrailer truck loaded with nine pickups and SUVs. They discovered high-powered assault rifles covered in plastic wrapping, which authorities said were destined for drug lords in Mexico.

Attorneys for the men argued that evidence against their clients did not support keeping them in jail and said at least three of the men had never been arrested before.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at 813 226-3337 or cjenkins@sptimes.com.