PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Authorities announced new information Friday in the record-breaking cocaine bust at the Port of Philadelphia. Federal officials held a press conference, giving a look at a portion of what was seized. Investigators say this is only a quarter of the drugs found by law enforcement on Monday.
Officials said Friday it is the largest cocaine haul in the history of U.S. Customs.
Federal agents lined the foyer of Philadelphia’s Custom House with thousands of pounds of seized cocaine during the press conference Friday.
They confirmed six people were charged in the $1 billion cocaine bust that took place at the Port of Philadelphia. They also upped the amount of cocaine seized from the MSC Gayane cargo ship to more than 35,000 pounds, or 15,876 kilograms. They put the street value of the drugs at $1.1 billion.
“Each defendant has been federally charged with one count of knowingly and intentionally conspiring with each other and with others to possess more than five kilos of cocaine on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of our country,” U.S. Attorney William McSwain said during the briefing Friday. “You thought you could breeze into our port and then leave with enough cocaine to destroy millions of lives without being caught. You thought you were clever, you were wrong.”
McSwain says if convicted, the suspects face up to life in prison. He’s requesting that the suspects remain in federal custody pending trial. A hearing will be held on Monday in that matter.
Authorities boarded the ship Sunday night after they detected anomalies while examining seven shipping containers aboard the MSC Gayane. The boarding team escorted the ship to its berth in South Philadelphia and continued its inspection.
The ship made port calls to Chile, Peru, Panama and the Bahamas before arriving in Philadelphia. It was destined for the Netherlands before federal authorities raided it at the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal.
Federal court records obtained by CBS3 identified two of the six people in custody: Ivan Durasevic and Fonofaavae Tiasaga. Further information about the suspects was not released, but McSwain did say Friday none of the suspects were American.
Court documents outline the cocaine was apparently loaded by the bale-full onto the ship, delivered to the MSC Gayane by six separate boats in the middle of the night after leaving Peru. Court documents allege some of the men on those boats were wearing ski masks.
The drugs were then concealed in containers.
According to the complaint, Durasevic admitted his role to authorities in bringing cocaine onto the vessel after being offered $50,000 by the chief officer.
“According to Durasevic, upon leaving Peru on this current voyage, he got a call from the chief officer to come down to the deck, at which time he saw nets on the port side stern by the ship’s crane. Durasevic and approximately four other individuals, some of whom were wearing ski masks, assisted in the pushing of the nets towards Hold Seven or Eight of the vessel. The nets contained blue or black bags with handles. Two or three crew members assisted in loading the cocaine into containers. The whole process took approximately 30 to 40 minutes,” court documents say.
Agents are still inspecting containers aboard the MSC Gayane, which was flying under a Liberian flag.
Natasha Brown reports.