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Tuesday, July 16, 2024


July 19, 2001 – The arrest in Manhattan this week of alleged drug kingpin Antonio Marte, who is said to head a narcotics ring that imports up to $3 million worth of cocaine for distribution weekly, resulted in part from a drug bust on St. Thomas in May.
On May 9, authorities arrested Antonio Wilkins, 35, a Celebrity Cruises employee found to be in possession of about 13.2 pounds (6 kilograms) of cocaine, and three other individuals on St. Thomas. The drug seizure was the first in the Caribbean in an ongoing investigation of Marte and his narcotics operation, according to Bridget G. Brennan, New York City special narcotics prosecutor, whose office was involved in the five-month investigation.
Wilkins, from Costa Rica, Ceasar Issias, 45, of Venezuela, and Claudio Montero, 46, and Lucille Damaris-Ortiz, 33, both of St. Thomas, all were charged with drug-related crimes. Additional cocaine was seized in a St. Thomas hotel room at the time of the other arrests, with the total amount coming to about 30.8 pounds (14 kilos). The cocaine remains in custody on St. Thomas pending prosecution, according to Joseph Valiquette of the New York City FBI office.
Brennan said the four were held for prosecution on St. Thomas because the investigation into Marte's alleged wide-spread drug trafficking activities was ongoing at the time of their arrest. The St. Thomas arrests were the result of wire taps, Brennan said.
Drug traffickers often use code during conversations, Brennan said, but once investigating agencies — which in this case also included the New York Police Department — are able to break the code, they can determine where the traffickers are operating, which in this case was literally across the United States, the Caribbean and South America.
What the organization, which investigators dubbed "Itchie and Scratchie" (Itchie being the nickname of one of the suspects), primarily smuggled into the United States was cocaine from South America, in shipments of 50 to 100 kilos, and some heroin from Mexico, authorities said.
The release from Brennan's office and the FBI/NYPD Joint Organized Crime Task Force reads like a crime novella, telling a tale of a well-organized drug business that utilized a cruise ship in the Caribbean, numerous couriers and even a transshipment house called Campo, meaning "countryside," in Greenlawn, Long Island.
Along with Marte, authorities also arrested another alleged top supplier in the drug trafficking organization, Nelson Mendez, in the bust, as well as 12 "associates." Weapons, a bulletproof vest, several grams of cocaine, 50 grams of heroin and about $90,000 in cash were confiscated in the bust, which began Monday night and ran through Tuesday and covered areas of New York City, Long Island, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
Some of those arrested had been targeted for many years, according to Brennan.
Valiquette said that there was close cooperation with FBI agents and the U.S. Attorney's Office on St. Thomas, and that as far as he knew, they carried out the local arrests without assistance from FBI personnel in New York or elsewhere.
The four arrested on St. Thomas will be prosecuted in the Virgin Islands, Brennan said. The specific charges against them could not be learned Thursday night, nor could the date they are scheduled to go to trial.

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