PERFECT COCAINE COVER
Mark Bassant uncovers faceless companies in US and T&T in drug smuggling ring
Mark Bassant CCN Senior Multimedia Investigative Journalist
THE NAMELESS and faceless drug smugglers thought they had the perfect cocaine cover for their billion-dollar clandestine operation, involving a defunct company, what looks like a ghost company and fictitious people and addresses.
Until they were busted.
While the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is said to be closing in on suspects in their transatlantic investigation into the $644 million cocaine seizure in the United States that originated from Trinidad, well-placed shipping sources pointed to several websites online in the US to provide answers.
One of the websites, portexaminer.com, examines US customs and import data for thousands of ocean shipments.
The site shows a bill of lading related to the shipment that landed in Virginia on December 15 with the canned Trinidad Juices that contained cocaine that was discovered five days later by US authorities.
The bill of lading listed the consignee’s name as Trinamerica Trading, from the shipper Caribbean Sea Works Ltd. The bill of lading also pointed to container XINU1072048, which this newspaper had reported exclusively two days ago. The container in question had been switched to the vessel Ilse Wulff in Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, before it was finally discharged in Norfolk, Virginia.
The container, according to the bill of lading, contained 800 cases of orange juice sweetened 12x19 oz11, 800 cases of grapefruit juices sweetened 12x19 oz11 and 700 cases of Apple J soda.
Insiders say no cocaine was found in the Apple J soft drink.
Sources say these drug smugglers “had found the perfect cover for their operation after the death of Mr John O’Sullivan in October 2008”.
Shipping sources pointed us to the website greatexportimport.com, a reputable Chinese site that tracks import and export movements around the world.
What this site showed was only five months after O’Sullivan’s death, someone had started to transact business using the company’s name when all activity had ceased with his death.
By February 19, 2009, according to the history of transactions on the greatexportimport website, someone was pulling the strings behind the defunct Caribbean Sea Works Ltd and sending canned juices to a woman by the name of Petula Hackshaw, at 909 Newtown Road, Virginia Beach. All the juices were sent to the Norfolk Port in Virginia.
On February 19, some 400 cases of orange and grapefruit juice were sent to the port of Norfolk; on July 17 that same year—1,000 cases of orange and grapefruit juice; on October 26, 2009—1,110 cases of fruit juice; March 27, 2010—mixture of juices and vegetables; July 26, 2010—1,100 cases of orange and grapefruit juice were sent.
Hackshaw’s address was tracked down, which turned out to be the exact address of American Classic Storage.
We called the number, 1-757-473-1717, and spoke to a woman named Diane, who told us they were a self-storage business.
Express: Did Petula Hackshaw ever do business with you guys?
Diane: I am checking the database here and as far as I can see, there is no one with that name in our database. And once you transact business at this office, your name should be in here.
Express: Are you certain?
Diane: Well, we have 13 office sites in Virginia and if we did business in any specific office, your name would come up in the database.
It would appear Hackshaw was nothing but a fictitious name used by the drug runners to smuggle their product in.
Diane explained they would provide self-trucking transport to people if necessary when they got their goods cleared on the port or they can use their own transport, once they rent the self-storage space.
Once fees were paid for the storage facility, no questions were asked.
Storage facilities can be booked for days or even months, she explained.
But after March 2011, Petula Hackshaw’s name no long appears as the consignee collecting the “canned juices” on behalf of Caribbean Sea Works Ltd.
Seven months later, according to the website, in comes Trinamerica Trading, which would move the juices once they got to the United States, including the last shipment that the $644m in cocaine was found in.
Trinamerica Trading was also linked to other trade partners here in Trinidad and had quite recently done business with Don Edwards Scrap Metals Company Ltd, who, according to the website, was shipping “steel scrap for smelting” in December last year to Norfolk, Virginia, which came in the very said day the cocaine shipment arrived in Norfolk.
Innoven Trinidad Ltd was also recorded to have done a similar transaction with the same company in August last year.
But does Trinamerica Trading exist?
The Express spoke to Don Edwards of Don Edwards Scrap Metals Ltd late last night and he said, “I never went to their office. A broker would make arrangements for my containers and I would usually pay cash, about US$250. I have documents and I am legitimate.”
We also contacted Innoven Trinidad Ltd, located in Rivulet Road, Couva, to find out about Trinamerica Trading but got no answer.
Further digging revealed Trinamerica Trading was actually a company registered in the Bronx, New York, USA, according to a New York City registry website.
When the address was searched, it gave us another business place by the name of Ace Auto Parts, with the exact address.
We called the number, 1-757-313-7278, but no one answered.
Is Trinamerica Trading legit? And who are the people behind it?
It would seem based on our investigations, the company was also existent here in Trinidad until October 17 last year, but then it was listed as defunct in a copy of the Trinidad Gazette we obtained under “notice of defunct companies from register”.