Pubdate: Sat, 18 Mar 2000
Source: Sun Herald (MS)
Copyright: 2000 The Sun Herald
Forum:  Brad Branan


BILOXI - Two security guards, who were supposed to prevent drug
smuggling through the Port of Gulfport, face charges of possessing
cocaine on a banana cargo ship.

Norman Garita and Joel Vargas carried about two kilograms of cocaine
on the Cape Cavo, which traveled from Turbo, Colombia, to the port in
February, according to a sworn statement from a U.S. Customs agent.

A federal grand jury charged Garita and Vargas with conspiring to
import drugs, importing drugs and possession of drugs with the
intention of distributing them. Jose Diaz of Houston, who allegedly
tried to buy the cocaine and was involved in a chase afterward, was
charged with the same crimes.

The three men face between five and 40 years in prison. Diaz and
Garita, both from Costa Rica, are being held without bond at the
Harrison County jail. Court records say Diaz was in jail in February,
but the jail has no record for him.

Customs agents sometimes rely on the cargo ship security guards to
control drug smuggling. Security guards for Turbana, which delivers
bananas to the port, tipped off agents last year that one of its
crewmen was delivering cocaine.

Sunn Lwin was caught by federal officials and pleaded guilty in
September to importing cocaine. He was sentenced to just under five
years in prison.

Customs agent Charles Tyson doesn't identify who tipped off federal
officials about the recent alleged smuggling. This is Tyson's account
of what happened: Garita and Vargas were trying to leave the port when
the United States Coast Guard showed up. Garita tried to walk back
toward the ship when an officer told him to stop. He continued walking
until the officer grabbed him, patted him down and found eight
packages of cocaine under his shirt.

Garita and Vargas agreed to cooperate with law enforcement officers.
Garita called someone in Moss Point who instructed him to deliver the
cocaine to a parking lot near the port. Diaz showed up in a black Ford
Explorer and gave Garita $8,000 in exchange for a bag that purportedly
contained cocaine. Diaz drove off.

When Coast Guard agents tried to block the exit of the parking lot,
Diaz swerved out of the way. He similarly avoided a police roadblock
at Copa Boulevard and U.S. 90, then took off on U.S. 90 at speeds
reaching 100 mph. He crashed into concrete embankment, then fled on
foot. Officers caught him in a wooded area.
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