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Two drug seizures linked, prosecutor says

Federal officials are seeking a suspect involved in both cocaine shipments, one of which was described in court.

By LARRY DOUGHERTY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 25, 2000


TAMPA -- This month's seizure of a Colombian shrimp boat loaded with 3 tons of cocaine is related to the seizure of 6 more tons on another fishing boat in February, a federal prosecutor said in court Monday.

Both cases involved at least one suspect who has not yet been arrested, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Ruddy. He spoke at an initial court appearance for the six crew members of the Layneyd, the ship towed into St. Petersburg on Friday.

While Ruddy and his office declined to elaborate on the connection between this ship and the Rebelde, one thing seems clear: Federal authorities have the inside scoop on large-scale cocaine shipments off the coast of South America.

The prosecutor gave this account in court Monday of the latest seizure:

A U.S. helicopter saw the 81-foot-long Layneyd April 4, several hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador in international waters. When it saw the helicopter, the boat began to take what the U.S. crew felt were evasive maneuvers.

The USS John A. Moore, a guided-missile frigate, approached the vessel. The captain, when contacted, said he didn't know the name of his ship, and dispatched some of his crew members to go look on the hull. The ship rode low in the water, and the crew had lowered its small skiff onto the water. U.S. authorities speculated that the crew was about to scuttle the ship.

U.S. officials boarded the boat the next day, after obtaining permission from Colombian officials. In a starboard fuel tank, they found 12 bales of cocaine, each about 53 pounds. After other caches were found, the total recovered amounted to 3.7 tons.

Crew members told Coast Guard officials that the captain, 33-year-old Segundo Quinones of Tumaco, Colombia, told them after departure that the trip was a drug run, and that the boat was "poisoned" with drugs, Ruddy said. The ship had no booms or other equipment typically used to catch shrimp. It also had more food and fuel than expected for a shrimp boat that ordinarily does not leave sight of land.

Quinones and his crew members were ordered held without bail Monday, pending further hearings. All five crew members entered pleas of not guilty to charges of possession and conspiracy. Quinones is still working out details of his representation, and did not enter a plea.


-- Larry Dougherty can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or dougherty@sptimes.com

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