Suspect had cocaine surgically implanted in legs

April 3, 1990
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MIAMI -- A man who drew suspicion during a routine drug interdiction program because he was walking stiff-legged was arrested and found to have packets of cocaine implanted in his legs, the U.S. Customs Service said Tuesday.

Agents detained Roberto Julian O'Neil, 23, of Colombia, Sunday at the San Juan International Airport after they observed him walking with stiff legs, said Mamie E. Pollack, director of Customs in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

O'Neil had just arrived on an Iberia Airlines plane from Colombia and was awaiting a connecting flight to Madrid. Inspectors were observing passengers as part of 'Operation Transit Pigeon,' a program to intercept drugs on their way from Colombia to Europe.

O'Neil was taken to a private room, where inspectors searched him and detected some bulges in his thighs, Pollack said. Agents thought the suspect had taped something to his legs inside his trousers.

But a closer inspection revealed that O'Neil had badly infected incisions covered by stitches and strips of adhesive tape, she said.

O'Neil was taken to the Rio Piedras hospital in San Juan, where doctors removed the stitches and discovered one-half pound of cocaine under the skin on each ofhis thighs, Pollack said. The stitches were thought to be about two days old.

'In more than 20 years with the U.S. Customs Service, this is the most bizarre form of drug smuggling I have ever encountered or even heard about,' Pollack said.

The cocaine was contained in four one-square-inch packages of one-quarter pound each. Doctors also found an older incision in O'Neil's right calf, but no cocaine was detected there.

O'Neil, who was arrested on drug smuggling charges, was in the hospital Tuesday recovering from the infected incisions, Pollack said.

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