By BETHANY BLANKLEY
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – Homeland Security Investigations’ Miami Division has been cracking down on weapons and ammunition smuggling from Miami to Haiti and other Caribbean nations.
It also arrested a wanted Venezuelan involved in an alleged $1.2 billion international money laundering scheme.
HSI-Miami Special Agent in Charge Anthony Salisbury held a press conference with members of law enforcement from several agencies last week after they’d concluded a successful operation thwarting an illegal arms trafficking scheme.
At the event, they displayed examples of high-capacity weapons that were seized as part of the operation including .50 caliber sniper rifles, 308 rifles, and a belt fed machine gun.
The U.S. “and in particular south Florida, is not open for business regarding the illegal trafficking of weapons,” Agent Salisbury said.
Over the past three months, HSI says it’s seen a substantial increase in the number of weapons, along with a serious increase of the caliber and type of firearms, being illegally trafficked out of Miami.
“In the wrong hands, these weapons could cause mass casualties,” he said.
The next day, HSI-Miami announced its El Dorado Task Force South arrested Luis Fernando Vuteff, who was wanted for his alleged role in a $1.2 billion international scheme to launder funds corruptly obtained from Venezuela’s state-owned and controlled energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA).
This was after HSI-Miami agents apprehended former national Venezuelan Treasurer Claudia Diaz, who arrived in South Florida on May 12, and took her into custody. Her arrest was pursuant to an HSI-Miami led investigation on money laundering and an alleged violation of the Foreign Corruption Act, which resulted in her indictment on Dec. 16, 2020.
Agents with federal and state agencies involved in the weapons trafficking operation included HSI-Miami and Tampa offices, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Miami Sector, CBP’s Air and Marine Operations unit, the U.S. Coast Guard, DHS, Department of Commerce Miami office, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, Miami Dade Police Department’s Organized Crime Bureau, and the U.S. Attorney for Southern District of Florida. They also included HSI-Miami’s Border Enforcement Security Taskforce (BEST) groups whose specialty is to combat emerging and existing Transnational Criminal Organizations and increase inspections of U.S. export shipments to ensure compliance with federal export laws.
The agents leveraged information from investigations and partnerships with foreign customs officials and police to target shipments and individuals that may be engaged in smuggling, including the physical movement of illegal weapons and financial transactions making them possible.
Anyone with information about cross-border weapons trafficking is encouraged to contact HSI’s Tip-Line at 866-347-2423.