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219 Jamaicans Held in Gang Arrests : ‘Posses’ in 20 Cities Targeted on Charges of Illegal Drugs, Arms

Times Staff Writer

In a nationwide crackdown on Jamaican organized crime groups, authorities have arrested 219 people, including seven in Los Angeles, on charges involving cocaine trafficking, illegal immigration and use of illegal firearms, Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh announced Thursday.

The coordinated effort, marked by arrests in 20 cities, culminates a two-year federal investigation of gangs that are believed to control 40% of the U.S. cocaine trade, principally in the potent form of “crack,” Thornburgh said at a news briefing.

Dubbed Operation Rum Punch II, the arrests follow similar raids in October, 1987, and are designed “to send a message” that drug dealing and gunrunning by convicted felons and illegal immigrants from Jamaica will be dealt with severely, Thornburgh said. As many as 1,400 drug-related murders have been attributed to Jamaican gangs in the last four years, he said.

Several Agencies Involved

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With help from federal prosecutors and drug enforcement agents, the investigation has been directed by officers from the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, officials said. State and local police officers also have joined in the effort.

Authorities said those arrested in the Los Angeles area have been charged principally with crimes related to illegal immigration. Stephen E. Higgins, director of the Treasury bureau, said 435 people ultimately are targeted for arrest throughout the country.

“The development of today’s case represents another significant step forward in the federal government’s war against drugs,” Thornburgh said. “It is of special importance because, as the government has alleged, the Jamaican groups, or ‘posses,’ are among the largest traffickers in ‘crack’ cocaine, which is aimed especially at young people.”

Although the Jamaican gangs represent a major force in U.S. cocaine trafficking, Thornburgh said, “less than 1% of Jamaican immigrants to this country are involved.” He said federal law enforcement officers have had “very significant cooperation from the Jamaican government.”

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Follow Bank Indictment

Thornburgh noted that the Jamaican arrests follow by two days the announcement in Tampa of “an unprecedented breakthrough in the money-laundering area.” He was referring to the indictment of an international bank, nine of its officers and 75 others on charges of laundering more than $32 million in cocaine proceeds for the Medellin drug cartel of Colombia.

In response to a question, he denied that the drug crackdown was timed to help the presidential campaign of Vice President George Bush, who has been coordinating the work of federal drug enforcement task forces. The announcement was made on the day of a crucial debate between Bush and his Democratic opponent, Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.

Evidence in the nationwide investigation into Jamaican crime groups has been heard mainly by a federal grand jury in Miami, which returned felony charges, including racketeering and murder, against 34 members of the notorious Shower narcotics gang in South Florida. The largest number of arrests are occurring in Miami, Houston and New York, officials said.

Thornburgh said members of the Shower gang and others have undertaken “urban terrorism,” often committing murders to solidify their share of the illicit drug trade. “They are alleged to be involved in kidnaping, robberies, assaults, domestic and international gun trafficking, money laundering and fraud,” he said.

The Shower posse smuggled cocaine and marijuana from the Bahamas and distributed the drugs in suitcases to New York, Los Angeles, Detroit and other locations, the grand jury said.


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