Three Bronx men charged in international cocaine scheme using children’s lunchboxes

Five NYC men, including three Bronx residents were charged Wednesday in a sophisticated conspiracy to smuggle millions of dollars in cocaine from Puerto Rico to New York and Massachusetts via the U.S. Postal Service.
Courtesy of Getty

Five NYC men, including three Bronx residents, were charged Wednesday in a sophisticated conspiracy to smuggle millions of dollars in cocaine from Puerto Rico to New York and Massachusetts via the U.S. Postal Service.

Intercepted packages contained a total of 30 kilograms of cocaine concealed inside children’s lunchboxes and school binders.

In carrying out the charged conspiracy, which ran from May of 2020 to July of 2021, accused ringleaders Carlos Duarte, of Yonkers and Alexis Garcia, of the Bronx, allegedly shipped numerous packages containing cocaine from Puerto Rico to New York and Massachusetts. The investigation revealed the two work as managers representing recording artists in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Both are residents of New York. Frequent travel in connection with this work allegedly served as a cover for narcotics-related activity.

“Concealing narcotic drugs in children’s lunchboxes was the modus operandi for this organization,” said Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan. “If this tactic was designed to throw off law enforcement, it did not work. I commend the excellent investigation conducted with our partners for putting it out of business.”

On Wednesday, agents, officers and inspectors arrested Duarte at his home at 237 Hoover Ave., in Yonkers, and recovered approximately 400 grams of a white powdery substance, some of which tested positive as cocaine in a field test, and multiple cellphones from the residence in a court-authorized search. Garcia was arrested in front of a recording studio located at 281 S. Broadway in Yonkers. He had approximately $12,000 on his person. A court authorized search of his 1500 Noble Ave. residence in the Bronx yielded another $32,000, various records and a Rolex watch. Also, Raul Sweeney, 27, Bronx, was arrested on Thursday in the Bronx.

Duarte faces the top narcotics charge of Operating as a Major Trafficker. Other charges contained in the indictment include second-degree conspiracy, first-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and first- and third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. Wesley Coddington, of Queens and Bryan Centeno-Rosado, of the Bronx, were arrested during the investigation and charged in criminal complaints. They are scheduled to be arraigned Nov. 17.

While charges in the indictment relate to USPS packages containing approximately 15 kilograms of cocaine, the investigation resulted in the seizure of roughly twice that amount, for a total of 30 kilograms of cocaine. Agents, officers and inspectors employed a wide range of investigative tools, including the collection of latent fingerprints from USPS packages, physical and electronic surveillance, court authorized searches and various other investigative tools.

During the investigation, U.S. postal inspectors identified several hallmarks of packages sent by the organization, and uncovered a more extensive pattern involving 100 similar packages shipped since May of 2020. Packages were shipped to residential addresses in New York State, including in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens and Greene County, as well as to Massachusetts. Often, the named recipients were either fictitious or were actual individuals not associated with the address. Frequently, the return addresses were in New York, despite the packages originating in Puerto Rico. At least two packages bore the return address of a luxury clothing boutique in Upper Manhattan.

Between May of 2020 and April of 2021, fingerprint analysis allegedly linked the defendants to six packages. Duarte’s fingerprints were allegedly found on two packages and Garcia’s on four, and Centeno-Rosado’s on one of the packages associated with Garcia. These USPS packages contained a total of eight kilograms of cocaine concealed inside children’s lunchboxes and a zip binder. The lunchboxes bore images of popular cartoon characters.

On Jan. 21, surveillance footage in Puerto Rico showed Duarte shipping a USPS package destined for 2925 Colden Ave., in the Williamsbridge neighborhood of the Bronx, which is the residence of Sweeney. Members of NYDETF observed the package being delivered to the Colden Avenue address on Jan. 22. Sweeney allegedly exited the residence with a gray shopping bag, discarded what appeared to be a white USPS box, and gave the bag to Coddington. Members of NYDETF and USPIS observed Coddington enter a vehicle and move around in the back seat.

At 2:25 p.m., agents and officers stopped the vehicle in the vicinity of Astor Avenue and Boston Road and recovered approximately two kilograms of cocaine concealed in children’s lunch boxes inside a hidden trap compartment in the back seat area. Coddington also possessed a small quantity of fentanyl. He was arrested and charged in a criminal complaint.

On April 14, agents and officers conducted a court-authorized search of Coddington’s residence at 21-27 149th St., in Flushing, Queens. The search yielded more than 18 pink zip lock bags containing cocaine, as well as $4,000, a Rolex watch, luxury sneakers, a luxury book bag and wallet, a kilo press (equipment used in packaging narcotics), three digital scales and cellphones.

Two weeks later, on April 28, agents and officers observed Duarte receive a USPS package and drive in a white pickup truck. The following day, on April 29, members of NYDETF and USPIS tracked a package destined for 1871 Barnes Ave., in the Bronx. During surveillance, they observed a vehicle similar to Duarte’s white pickup truck near the location. At approximately 4:40 p.m., agents and officers observed Centeno-Rosado exit the location carrying a heavy duffel bag and get into a livery car. Members of Group T-41 followed the car and stopped it in Yonkers.

Agents and officers recovered four kilograms of cocaine split between two lunchboxes, one gray and one red. The livery driver showed the car’s destination as 237 Hoover Road in Yonkers, the residence of Duarte. Cellphone communications between Duarte and Centeno-Rosado indicate Duarte ordered the livery car. Centeno-Rosado was arrested and charged in a criminal complaint.

On June 3, members of NYDETF stopped a car in which Garcia was an occupant. A court authorized search yielded approximately $1,000 from the trunk of the vehicle, as well as two cellphones. A court-authorized search of the cell phones showed Garcia and another individual allegedly engaged in narcotics-related conversation, with Garcia sending a USPS receipt and the other individual sending a picture of a kilogram of cocaine. There were also discussions related to price and weight.

Later that month, Duarte travelled to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas and New Mexico. On June 21, he allegedly sent a USPS box listing his own name as both the recipient and sender.

“At the height of the ongoing pandemic, these alleged drug traffickers hid behind jobs in the music industry and shipped their cocaine in children’s lunch boxes,” said NYC Police Commissioner Dermot Shea. “But our NYPD investigators and partners in law enforcement weren’t fooled and today’s important indictment from the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor shows our unwavering commitment to keep New Yorkers from being victimized by
crime.”

More from Around NYC