Orlando Sentinel (Florida)
August 2, 2000 Wednesday, METRO

BYLINE: By Pamela J. Johnson of The Sentinel Staff

In the largest seizure of the drug in Central Florida, about 30 pounds of South American heroin with a street value of several million dollars has been confiscated in Orlando.

It’s perhaps the largest find of its kind in the southeastern United States in recent years, officials said Tuesday.

The drugs arrived last week aboard a private Learjet at Orlando Executive Airport. The plane originated in Venezuela and stopped in Fort Lauderdale before landing in Orlando, with New York as its final destination.

A federal grand jury in Orlando on Tuesday indicted five people in connection with the seizure. Three additional suspects were arrested in New York.

“It confirms the sad fact that a massive amount of heroin is coming through Central Florida,” U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Brent Eaton said Tuesday.

“It’s very disturbing to the DEA that more and more high-quality heroin is coming from Colombia and at a cheaper price.”

In Orlando, Colombian heroin is sold wholesale from $65,000 to $85,000 per kilogram, which is about 2.2 pounds.

Heroin from the Far East sells wholesale for about $100,000 a kilogram, Eaton said. On the street, Colombian heroin goes for up to $140 per gram.

The seizure translates into more than 150,000 doses of the drug, which was 90 percent pure.

“Junkies who shoot 90 percent pure heroin die immediately,” the DEA’s Eaton said. “Those are usually first-time users.”

By the time the drug is diluted with sugar, talcum powder or other white powders, its street value would soar to several million dollars, authorities said.

The DEA investigation was launched on July 14, when Nassar Darwich, 30, a Colombian national, was arrested in Orlando after 1.3 kilograms was found in the soles of shoes he was carrying, Eaton said.

After Darwich’s arrest, DEA agents were waiting when the Learjet landed at the airport on July 25, Eaton said.

Passengers Edgar Javier Valles Diaz, 51, and Neyra Aracely Rivas Casanova, 48, both of Caracas, Venezuela, were arrested after 13 kilograms of heroin were found hidden in the soles of tennis shoes stashed in their luggage, Eaton said. The pilot was not arrested because of a lack of evidence.

Five kilograms were destined for Orlando and eight were scheduled to continue to New York, officials said.

Two additional suspects — Ramon Antonio Suarez, 52, and Ricardo Antonio Suarez, 23, both of Orlando — were also indicted on Tuesday. They were linked to Darwich.

So far this year, there have been 45 heroin-related deaths in Central Florida, Eaton said. Last year, 58 people overdosed on heroin and died.