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Major Drug-Smuggling Ring Smashed

November 05, 1987|BARRY BEARAK and LORNA NONES | Times Staff Writers

MIAMI — A sophisticated delivery service that ferried drugs from Colombia to the United States and that was once a prime pipeline for the notorious Medellin Cartel has been smashed, federal officials announced Wednesday.

The so-called Munday-Coley Organization used phony vacation flights, with hired passengers, to mask a scheme for hauling up to 60,000 pounds of cocaine in a four-year period, the officials said.

Thirty individuals have been indicted. Thirteen were arrested Wednesday, as 115 federal agents fanned out across South Florida to make the arrests. Eight others, including alleged kingpin James C. Coley, were already in custody. Michael O. Munday remains a fugitive.

Transportation Network

"This was the largest transportation network used by the Medellin Cartel between 1982 and 1986," said Bill Perry, acting special agent in charge of the Miami FBI office.

That cartel, based in Colombia, is believed to be the supplier of 80% of the cocaine consumed in the United States, earning an estimated $8 billion a year.

The Munday-Coley Organization did not sell drugs but merely acted as an express smuggling service--the largest of several--for the suppliers. It was paid about $90 million by the cartel, officials said.

Its method of operations, according to the indictment, was to arrange flights from the United States to the Bahamas. It appeared to be a legitimate charter service. Women, referred to as "cover girls," were paid to act as passengers.

Clandestine Flights

After dropping off the supposed vacationers, the planes continued to clandestine airstrips in Colombia to pick up loads of cocaine and marijuana.

The drug shipments were then dumped at drop points in waters off the Bahamas, where they were recovered by boat crews. The boats proceeded to the American shore.

"We are talking about mega-sophistication . . . " said Michael Sheehan, spokesman for U.S. Customs in Miami. "They used an unbelievable array of equipment. They had their own radio room where they would listen to and scan all our radios.

"They used night-vision goggles, radar detecting . . . and their own radio-scrambling devices so we couldn't hear them. They had lookouts on Miami Beach and a fleet of boats to work with."

Customs agents became aware of the scheme in 1984. "They lost a load and they got (angry), understandable if you lose a ton of cocaine," Sheehan said.

"So they decided (to) get some beacons made. These beacons emit a high-pitched radio signal and an infrared flashing light that can be seen with special goggles.

"They go to make the beacons and they talk to a guy who no sooner hangs up the phone with them, then he goes and calls us and says, 'Yo, I've got something here.'

Stalled for Time

"See, they didn't know that this technician--let's call him that--had worked with us before . . . . We held them up by having him ask for $25,000 apiece, then stalling for time.

"Eventually, they got two beacons, which they were able to test in a lake . . . but that's as far as they got before we busted them."

The investigation was code-named Operation Beacon, and agents made the initial arrests in the summer of 1986, when Coley was arrested in a raid near Lakeland, Fla.

At that time, Munday held agents at bay by opening the gas tank of a cocaine-laden plane and pointing a flare gun at several 55-gallon gasoline drums nearby.

It was a "standoff," federal agents said, and Munday escaped.

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