Heroin Implants Turned Puppies Into Drug Mules, U.S. Says
A Colombian drug trafficking organization was readying purebred puppies as drug couriers by surgically implanting large packets of liquid heroin into their bodies to ship them to the United States, federal officials said yesterday.
Ten puppies, including several Labrador retrievers, were discovered on a farm in a makeshift veterinary clinic in Medellín, Colombia, during a raid about a year ago, said John P. Gilbride, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's New York Field Division. He said surgical tools and a table for operations were found in the clinic.
The authorities revealed the puppy scheme yesterday as they unsealed indictments in Brooklyn federal court charging 10 people with conspiring to import heroin bound for New York.
All of the puppies were rescued, but three later died from infections from incisions, Mr. Gilbride said. A total of about three kilograms of liquid heroin, or about a pound per dog, was implanted in six dogs in packets stitched inside the loose skin of their bellies, Mr. Gilbride said, and the remaining puppies were awaiting operations.
The liquid drug, brown in color, was packed in soft, pliable plastic pouches, some transparent. The veterinarian, identified by one law enforcement official as Andres Lopez Elorez, is a fugitive believed to be in Spain.
"Throughout my 25-year career, this is one of the most outrageous methods of smuggling that I personally have encountered," Mr. Gilbride said.
A law enforcement official said the puppies were going to be presented as show dogs to get them past Customs inspectors at airports in the United States. In reality, their fate appeared grim.
Asked how the drugs would be extracted from the puppies, one law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing, said, "I don't think there was any real indication, but I don't think they were going to be real careful."
Mr. Gilbride said the surviving puppies, now grown dogs, are alive and well and living in Colombia.
For years, drug traffickers have paid people, including children, to sneak drugs into the United States by swallowing small, drug-filled pellets or packages made from latex gloves, balloons or condoms wrapped in tape and greased.
But the consequences of such journeys are sometimes fatal for those people, sometimes referred to as mules, as the drugs can seep out or the packages can rupture.
The drug organization targeted in the federal investigation, which has resulted in 22 arrests, also used human drug mules, officials said. In addition, heroin was concealed in body creams and aerosol cans, and pressed into bead shapes or sewn into the lining of purses and luggage.
Mr. Gilbride said there were no indications that any drug-bearing puppies made it to the United States. The federal authorities confiscated 24 kilograms of heroin at airports in Miami and New York, and in Medellín, Bogotá and Cartagena, Colombia. The drugs seized are worth about $2 million on the street, officials said. The Colombian National Police and other law enforcement agencies took part in the investigation.
By Al Baker and William K. Rashbaum