By Jane Smith
Are more drug bales washing up recently along South County coastal shores?
The Ocean Ridge police chief and a spokesman for the West Palm Beach office of Border Patrol think so.
Chief Chris Yannuzzi points to two recent incidents. On Aug. 6, 25 bricks of cocaine were bundled into one bale, with a street value of $2.3 million. That bale was turned over to the Border Patrol. On Sept. 7, a bale of marijuana also was turned over to the Border Patrol.
Why did the drug smugglers pick Ocean Ridge’s beach?
“My theory is,” Yanuzzi said, “location, location, location. We are close to the islands,” where he thinks most of the drug bales originate. Plus, during the turtle nesting season, which runs from March through October on the Atlantic Coast, no lights are permitted at night along the shore, allowing drug and migrant smugglers to come ashore undetected.
At Homeland Security Investigations, Edward Thompson, the assistant special agent in charge of the West Palm Beach office, said, “We noted the increase and we are trying to find out whether it is seasonal or something else.”
His office, which now includes Border Patrol, has seen an increase in both drugs and migrants smuggled onto the South County shores in the past nine months to a year. Because it is an open investigation, his agency would not provide any details.
At the Coast Guard office in Miami, details are provided only by the state and by the fiscal year. In fiscal year 2012 (Oct. 1, 2011-Sept. 30, 2012), the Coast Guard recorded 32 events of drug bales washing ashore in Florida.
“Each event could have multiple bales,” said Lt. Cmdr. Gabe Somma. The 32 events were broken down into 26 marijuana and six cocaine, he said.
In the fiscal year that started last October and through Sept. 17, the Coast Guard recorded 61 events, broken down into 37 marijuana and 24 cocaine.
“We’re monitoring the rise, but we don’t see it as significant even though it looks like cocaine events rose four times,” Somma said. “We think it’s because of increased reporting.”
In Delray Beach, beach-goers and workers reported finding cocaine bricks and marijuana packages five times since Sept. 25, 2012, along the city’s lengthy coastline.
The largest find came on April 17, when two workers, using front-loaders to disperse dredged sand on the beach, found a 4-foot broken PVC pipe filled with marijuana packages. The 14 black, cheese-wheel-shaped packages weighed 63.2 pounds, according to police records. The marijuana was valued at $100,000.
Two bricks of cocaine, about 1 kilo each, were found on Sept. 6 and Sept. 19, according to police records. The Sept. 19 brick was valued at $20,000, but no value was listed for the one found on Sept. 6. On March 23, a “very wet” cocaine brick, weighing 3.2 pounds, was found and valued at $40,000.
But in other South County coastal towns, few drug bales or none were reported.
In Gulf Stream, a marijuana bale, shaped like a beer keg, washed up on the beach behind 4001 N. Ocean Blvd., said Chief Garrett Ward. That was the first one he’s seen in five years. It was waterlogged, so they didn’t weigh it. The bale was turned over to the Sheriff’s Office for destruction, he said.
In Manalapan, two incidents of drugs washing up on the shore were recorded in the past two years. On April 30 of this year, a burlap bag of marijuana was found on the beach. It was turned over to Border Patrol, said Lt. Chris Fahey.
In Boca Raton, no drug bales washed ashore in the past five years, Officer Sandra Boonenberg reported after searching police records.
By Jane Smith