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Coke ring allegedly run from U.S. prison

22 arrested in Colombia, New York, California, Florida, New Jersey

From Chris Browne
CNN

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Characters from the children's TV program "Teletubbies" were used as labels on the drugs.

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Of the 22 people charged with conspiring to import "massive quantities of narcotics" into the United States, two allegedly were leading the operation from a federal prison in Pennsylvania, according to federal prosecutors.

Jose Escobar Orejuela and Jorge Ignacio Figueroa were "supervising an international narcotics operation from the Federal Correctional Center in Allenwood, Pennsylvania," Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York's Eastern District, said Wednesday in announcing the charges.

The two are serving sentences for conspiring to import cocaine into the United States.

Attempts to reach their attorneys were unsuccessful.

They and the other defendants were charged with using New York and California seaports as entry points for the drugs. Arrests were made Tuesday and Wednesday in New York, New Jersey, Florida, California and Colombia.

Escobar allegedly enlisted the help of longshoremen to ensure that the "cocaine-laden containers were placed in an easily accessible location and by notifying organization members, if law enforcement was at the port," U.S. Attorney Roslynn R. Mauskopf said.

Photographs of the seized cocaine shipments show that the drugs were labeled with pictures of characters from the popular children's program "Teletubbies."

The photographs were provided to CNN by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which led the joint U.S.-Colombian sting.

"The government's investigation resulted in the seizure of millions of dollars worth of cocaine and ultimately forced the Escobar-Figueroa organizations to give up the ports of New York as a landing point for their drugs," Mauskopf said.

The law enforcement operation also ended their attempts to import cocaine into California, she added.

The indictments result from a nearly five-year investigation code-named "Operation Pier Pressure."

The operation, launched in December 2000, has resulted in the seizure of more than 1,100 pounds (500 kilograms) of cocaine, all of which was recovered from the Howland Hook Marine Terminal in Staten Island, New York, Nardoza told CNN.

Among the defendants named are retired New York longshoremen Raul Adames and Alejandro Colon of Brooklyn, New York, and four people who had homes in Cali, Colombia.

A request for their extradition to the United States is pending, Nardoza said.

If convicted, each of the 22 defendants faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison up to a maximum of life behind bars, and a $4 million fine.

Escobar also is charged with money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment and a $500,000 fine.

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