MIAMI -- Customs agents on routine patrol found more than a ton of nearly pure cocaine with a street value of at least $1 billion in a shipment of freezers at a warehouse near Miami International Airport, officials said Saturday.
The cocaine bust late Friday night was the second largest in U.S. history. No arrests were made.
'It hasn't been weighed, but we're estimating the weight at about 2,500 pounds,' said Lou Bondi, deputy district director of the U.S. Customs Service. 'It's locked up over the weekend until everybody gets cracking Monday morning.'
Bondi said the cocaine, discovered by a sniffer dog named Prince during a routine check of the warehouse, was high in purity and would have been diluted several times before it was retailed on the street.
'It'll probably be worth somewhere between a billion and 2 billion dollars by the time it is cut 10 or 12 times,' he said.
'It was kind of a bold attempt to smuggle that much cocaine with basically no attempt to conceal it,' Bondi said at a news conference Saturday afternoon.
He said the drug was wrapped in individual packages weighing a kilogram each that customs officials dub 'footballs.' The cocaine was removed from the warehouse and taken to an undisclosed destination.
The largest seizure of illegal cocaine in the United States was 3,906 pounds discovered by customs agents in Miami who seized an air cargo shipment from Colombia March 9, 1982. The next largest cocaine seizure before Friday's discovery was 1,197 pounds at New Iberia, La., two months later.
Prince, a short-haired pointer, sniffed the shipment of refrigerators during a routine search Friday, jumped up on a cardboard shipping crate and began scratching. Agents found the cocaine in a freezer inside and in six others like it.'
Vann Capps, branch chief of the Custom Service's contraband enforcement team, said the freezers arrived on an Inair DC-8 cargo jet from Panama earlier Friday. The plane was seized shortly after the cocaine was found.
Customs agents said warehouse employees and flight crew members were interviewed Saturday morning but no arrests were made.
Zulma Batista, general manager of Inair, went to the warehouse to discuss the seizure. She said Inair was owned by interests in Venezuela and Panama.
Ms. Batista said the freezers had not been listed on the plane's flight manifest so she did not know how they got on the flight.
Bondi said agents had made some small seizures from Inair in the past but nothing approaching Friday's magnitude.
Bondi said efforts to stem the flow of cocaine into the country have been stepped up in recent months. Agents say cocaine busts at Miami International Airport are averaging 15 to 25 a month, twice the average three years ago.