Nov. 7, 2002 – The war on terrorism hit home in the Virgin Islands Thursday with word that an investigation into an international arms-for-drugs deal led federal investigators into the territory last April to a St. Croix site where dealers were taken to check out a cache of Russian-made weapons.
The case which wound its way to the territory was hatched in Houston, Texas. Authorities say the activities involved are unrelated to arrests on Wednesday in San Diego, California, of three individuals on federal drug and terrorism charges involving Al-Qaeda.
In Texas, Uwe Jensen, 66, and Carlos Ali Romero Varela, 43, and two other men were charged under a sealed indictment, the result of a 13-month investigation by the FBI. On Tuesday, Jensen was arrested in Houston and Romero Varela and the other two, identified as Carlos Lopez and one "Comandante Emilio," were taken into custody in Costa Rica. The four were charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization.
The four men were reportedly work on a deal with a paramilitary group called the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish-language acronym AUC, to trade $25 million in cocaine for a huge shipment of missiles, grenades, ammunition and rifles.
Agents posing as weapons merchants met Romero Varela in April then arranged meetings in London, Panama City and the Virgin Islands, all of which were secretly videotaped.
An FBI spokesman in Puerto Rico said on Thursday that neither this case nor the one involving the arrest of three alleged drugs-for-weapons suspects in San Diego is related to yet another high-profile arrest this week, that of James Spencer Springette, a St. Thomian described by authorities as a major international drug trafficker.
According to an Associated Press story in Wednesday's Los Angeles Times, the agents took one of the Texas suspects to a warehouse on St. Croix, where they displayed a cache of Russian-made weapons and discussed terms for a possible sale. The AP report said that according to an FBI affidavit, the weapons had been placed in the warehouse by federal agents, and undercover officers taped the April 28 meeting.
Federal indictments unsealed in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday provided details of another undercover operation that resulted in the arrest in September of three men in Hong Kong. The three, who are fighting extradition to the United States, were charged in connection with an alleged plot to supply the terrorist Al-Qaeda network with Stinger anti-aircraft missiles in exchange for heroin and other drugs. These arrests were linked to those in San Diego.
All of this anti-terrorist activity coincided with the arrest in Venezuela on Tuesday of Springette, described as a major international drug trafficker. Springette, known as "Jimmy the Juice," was apprehended by Venezuelan military police, turned over to the FBI and extradited to Georgia to face federal drug charges on Wednesday.
Even though all three cases have Colombian drug smuggling at their roots, FBI spokesman Eric Rivera in Puerto Rico said on Thursday that Springette's arrest is unrelated to the others. "As far as I know, there is no relationship," he said. "The warrant for his arrest was only for the drug case — conspiracy to transport cocaine from Colombia to the United States and the murder of a police officer."

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