Customs agents thought something didn't seem right with the coconuts that arrived at Port Everglades. When they looked closer, they found 90 of them were hollowed out and stuffed with pounds of cocaine.
The routine inspection of a container of produce shipped from the Dominican Republic to Fort Lauderdale turned up bags that were missing labels.
Federal agents put tracking devices into some of the fruit and let them be delivered to a produce-importing business in Miami, leading investigators to two men who unloaded and separated out the suspicious bags and a third man who took them to his home.
On Tuesday, the three South Florida men pleaded guilty in federal court in Fort Lauderdale to their roles in a conspiracy to import and distribute the drugs.
Narphy Antonio Villafana, 31, Alfredo Polanco, 32, and Rafael Leoncio Santos-Castro, 44, who have links to Broward and Miami-Dade counties and the Dominican Republic, face a maximum punishment of 10 years to life in prison and fines of up to $10 million when they are sentenced in July.
Villafana and Polanco pleaded guilty to conspiring to import more than 33 pounds of cocaine in connection with the Feb. 18 discovery at Port Everglades. Santos-Castro pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting in the distribution of the drug.
Agents previously intercepted another shipment of coconuts containing about 57 pounds of cocaine that arrived at Port Everglades in November aboard the same ship, court records show. Agents tried to deliver the shipment but aborted the effort when something went wrong, they wrote. They said the first shipment appeared to be linked to Polanco's phone number because they received a call from that number from someone claiming to be a business owner inquiring about what had happened to the first shipment.
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