Prosecutors have indicted five men for allegedly conducting a “vast narcotics conspiracy” in which they smuggled millions of dollars of cocaine into New York City via children’s lunchboxes. According to the city’s Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, the zip-up lunch boxes, which featured famous cartoon characters such as “My Little Pony” and “Despicable Me,” were shipped to houses across New York and Massachusetts via the U.S. Postal Service.
The New York Post reports, Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan said, “Concealing narcotic drugs in children’s lunchboxes was the modus operandi for this organization. If this tactic was designed to throw off law enforcement, it did not work.”
Carlos Duarte, 36, and Alexis Garcia, 41, are accused of transporting several shipments of cocaine from Puerto Rico to New York between May 2020 and July 2021. The pair allegedly work as music managers for artists in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, which allows them to travel regularly, which prosecutors claim was a cover for their drug trafficking business. Bryan Centeno-Rosado, 23, Raul Sweeney, 27, and Wesley Coddington, 43, were also arrested.
Investigators say, Duarte, also known as “Showtime,” was arrested at his home in Yonkers on Wednesday morning with 400 grams of powdery white material, part of which was positive for cocaine in a field test. Authorities said they confiscated 30 kilos of cocaine throughout the investigation.
However, they believe the suspects traded far more. The goods were frequently sent to individuals who didn’t exist or were not affiliated with the address, and although the packages were from Puerto Rico, the return addresses were often in New York. At least two of them had the address of a high-end Upper Manhattan apparel shop as the return address.
The indictment states that on January 21, a search of a vehicle Coddington was in turned up two kilos of cocaine packed in children’s lunch boxes within a secret trap compartment in the back of the car. The documents also reveal that investigators stopped Centeno-Rosado in a Lyft headed to Duarte’s Yonkers home on April 28 with four kilos of cocaine split between two lunchboxes.
Duarte is charged with acting as a major trafficker, conspiracy, criminal sale of a controlled substance, and drug possession. He pleaded not guilty at his appearance in Manhattan Supreme Court.
Justice Abraham Clott said that if convicted of the charges, Duarte could see an “extraordinary amount of time in prison.” Garcia and Sweeney both pleaded not guilty at their arraignments, and the court set bail for them. Centeno-Rosado and Coddington will be arraigned on November 17.
Philip R. Bartlett, Inspector in Charge of the US Postal Inspection Service, noted, “Over the years, we have seen many creative ways that drug traffickers conceal illegal narcotics in an effort to elude detection from law enforcement. Hiding narcotics in kid branded items is pathetic.”
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