Federal drug enforcement agents said yesterday they confiscated nearly a half ton of hashish and $125,000 in cash and arrested 11 persons Monday in what they alleged was a complicated transcontinental drug scheme.
Drug enforcement agency (DEA) and Customs Service agents called the seizure "one of the largest of its kind in the immediate (Washington) area." They announced the arrests while seated at a table piled high with five pound, plastic-wrapped portions of the hashish. In addition, the agents dispaled two clear bags filled with $125,000 in crisp, neatly stacked $50 and $100 bills.
DEA special-agent-in-charge M. H. Milano estimated the street value of the cache at $1.5 million, although he said the quality of the drug, which is essentially a concentrated form of marijuana, could not be determined, since it had not been sent to a laboratory for analysis.
The 11 suspects, who included a professional gambler and a cemetery caretaker, were charged in Alexandria yesterday with two counts of consipiracy to distribute hashish. DEA agents said the arrests were part of a continuing investigation that may result in more apprelousions.
The hashish arrived Sunday at Dulles International Airport aboard a Pan American Airlines commercial jet flight orginating in New Delhi, DEA agents said. The hashish was hidden within a 67-crate shipment of breass door knockers, 46 of which included the hashish, according to DEA agents.
DEA agents said they confiscated the hashish at Dulles on Sunday and substituted sand and other substances in its place in crate. Agents then permitted the shipment to be taken to a warehouse in Manassas.
According to papers filed in magistrate's court in Alexandira, DEA agents arrested Francisco Oquendo, a 27-year-old Gainsville, Fla., student, and Norman S. Handshaw, a 25-year-old Florida cemetery caretaker, as they allegedly removed the crates from the Manassas warehouse and loaded them on a pickup truck owned by Peter W. Kanelopoulos, an audio equipment salesman from Rockville.
Kanelopoulous was arrested in the parking lot of the Rockville Ramada Inn, along with William S. Coury, a 34-year-old Atlanta financial counsultant, and Donald Haynie, a Nashville, Tenn., construction worker, according to court papers.
Special Assistant U.S. Attorney David Harris said at a bond hearing before U.S. District Court Magistrate Harris Grimsley that Coury is suspected of being the "arranger of the (drug) deal."
"You mean you're charging this man with being the brains of it all?" Grimsley asked Harris before setting Coury's bond at $100,000. "It appears that way at this time," Harris replied.
Harris also told Grimsley that Haynie was suspected of being the man who arranged for the chartering of a Lear Jjet and the hiring of two pilots who flew three other suspects from West Palm Beach, Fla., to Dulles on Sunday. One agent said that they were not aware of the existence of the suspects in the Lear jet until they heard talk of airport runways on a tapped telephone.
The three passengers on the Lear jet were identified by DEA agents and in court papers as Lynn Edward Fletcher, of Fort Lauderdale; Jeff E. Wheeler, a restaurant worker from Bradenton, Fla., and Kenneth L. Bates, a student from Naples, Fla.
According to court papers, all three were arrested at a room in the Dulles Holiday Inn, along with George V. Carman, a 33-year-old professional gambler from Boston who was found with a metal suitcase containing $125,000 in American currency and $1,000 in Canadian money.
The two pilots of the Lear jet, Allen Heasley and William DiMauro, were also arrested. "I can't believe this is happening," DiMauro said, as his bond was set at $5,000.
DiMauro, 25, and Heasley, 41, were also arrested at the Dulles Holiday Inn, DiMauro said. "All of a sudden there were these guys running into our room and pointing guns at us," DiMauro said. "I couldn't believe it." He said he was just hired to fly the charter flight.