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Press Release | May 14, 2024

Coast Guard apprehends 4 men indicted for smuggling wildlife, following interdiction near Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Four suspected smugglers interdicted by the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection surface and air units were indicted by a federal grand jury in the District of Puerto Rico, May 9, 2024, following the interdiction of a makeshift vessel north of Isabela, Puerto Rico.

The suspects are facing criminal charges for smuggling wildlife from the United States and Lacey Act trafficking.

“This successful apprehension of four smugglers highlights the unwavering resolve of Coast Guard Sector San Juan, we work daily to interdict a wide range of illicit activities in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” said Captain José Díaz, Commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Juan. “Unfortunately, the cruelty displayed by the smugglers in this case resulted in the loss of over 100 exotic birds. We will not stop in our commitment to control illicit trafficking in our region.”

According to court documents, on or about May 3, 2024, defendants Frankluis Carela De Jesús, Waner Balbuena, Juan Graviel Ramírez Cedano, and Domingo Heureau Altagracia traveled together in a flagless vessel departing from San Juan, Puerto Rico to the Dominican Republic.

During the voyage, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations multi-role enforcement aircraft crew sighted a suspect makeshift vessel north of Isabela, Puerto Rico. Coast Guard watchstanders at Sector San Juan diverted the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Doyle to investigate. Upon detecting the presence of law enforcement units, the vessel occupants attempted to flee the scene while jettisoning multiple packages and equipment overboard. Shortly thereafter, cutter Joseph Doyle and a CBP-AMO helicopter successfully stopped the vessel. Following the interdiction, the Joseph Doyle crew recovered jettisoned cargo consisting of wood cages filled with various species of exotic birds, 113 of which perished.

The crew of cutter Joseph Doyle apprehended the men, seized the vessel, and transferred custody of the four suspected smugglers to U.S. Border Patrol Ramey Sector agents in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. Custody of the men, the birds and the cages were remanded to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for investigation and prosecution.

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