Man Sentenced To 10 Years For Smuggling Cocaine On Banana Boat
HARTFORD — - A Dominican man convicted of smuggling half a ton of cocaine into Bridgeport in a boatload of South American bananas was sentenced to 10 years in prison Thursday in U.S. District Court in Hartford, federal prosecutors said.
Nelson B. Santiago, 42, charged with conspiring to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, is the most recent in a succession of would-be smugglers who have tried to take advantage of a waterfront fruit-shipping operation that once made Bridgeport a major U.S. port of entry for tropical fruit.
Turbana Corp., which ships tropical fruit from Turbo, Colombia, recently moved its U.S. operation from Bridgeport to Philadelphia.
Authorities said Santiago and others in the smuggling ring hid cocaine in pallets of bananas loaded aboard the Turbana ship Napier Star in 2007. In the past, smugglers have stuffed cocaine into metal tubes welded below the waterline on banana boat hulls.
Several years ago, federal agents spotted Colombian scuba divers trying to empty such a welded tube from a ship docked in Bridgeport Harbor at 2 a.m. on a February morning. One of the divers, apprehended while running away in a wetsuit, claimed he was training for a triathlon.
According to information presented in court, Santiago worked for a ring that moved cocaine from Bridgeport through a variety of commercial fruit wholesalers in Connecticut and New York and ultimately to a distribution company owned by one of the smugglers in the Bronx.
Federal agents broke up the ring when an informant directed them to 444 kilograms of cocaine hidden in pallets of bananas at the Hunt's Point Fruit Market in the Bronx. The agents later seized an additional 50 kilograms at a commercial fruit warehouse in New Haven.
Santiago's last address was in New York. He was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Alvin W. Thompson. Charges are pending against a second member of the ring.
By EDMUND H. MAHONY
October 23, 2009