In a rare move, a U.S. District Court judge in New York sentenced two hippos imported from Colombia on a warrant issued by the Drug Enforcement Administration as part of a cocaine operation to a maximum of three years in prison.
Judge Berman, who is presiding over a group of cases against government spies, former Sen. William F. Roth Jr. and Edward Durrell Walls, found “sufficienter evidentiary factors in the case” to send one of the hippos to prison in federal court in White Plains, N.Y., and the other to a federal prison in Bronx, N.Y.
It’s called jurisdiction enhancement, according to the Hudson Legal Clinic at New York University School of Law, which represented the two hippos, known as “Palumbo Gangs,” as a representative of Peruvian and Colombian attorneys.
Even if they had caught them breaking the law, no charges could have been brought against them because the hippos were legally trafficked into the United States, according to Buckley’s opinion. Under U.S. law, people smugglers and exotic animals can only be charged as a criminal if the animals or people in question are driving illegal drugs through the country. The hippos were “legal people” who brought in drugs from Colombia legally.
“The hippos did not transport illicit narcotics … because they were ‘legal people’ who brought in drugs from Colombia legally,” Buckley wrote. “Here, the hippos merely went to the edge of U.S. border and crossed it in exchange for a few dollars’ worth of cocaine.”
“The hippos did not transport illicit narcotics … because they were ‘legal people’ who brought in drugs from Colombia legally.”
In 2013, agents from the DEA went into Colombia and arrested three alleged leaders of a drug-smuggling organization in the northern Antioquia province. The Colombians allegedly shipped various kinds of drugs and currency into the United States — cocaine, marijuana, cash, cigarettes, sports bags, camo clothes, and various types of marijuana seeds. The DEA went to Colombia on a DEA warrant. Colombia is a “foreign country” under the federal criminal code, so the agents had to transfer the suspect that they had arrested there to U.S. authorities.
By the end of 2015, they had seized more than 15 tons of cocaine, worth $639 million, cocaine paste, marijuana, 188 kilograms of marijuana seed, and assorted paperwork that referenced drug cartels like the Medellin Cartel, “Antioquia Cartel,” and “the Crescent Cartel.”
They caught two hippos in the middle of it, which is illegal. Palumbo was sent back to Colombia in 2016; Palumbo Gangs’ “Runner One” was captured last year. Buckley found that it was essential to keep them in the United States so that U.S. drug enforcement could continue to track them.
“[Palumbo Gangs] allegedly conspired to import controlled substances into the United States from Colombia via the U.S. maritime border,” she wrote. “Palumbo Gangs constituted a criminal corporation on U.S. soil that broke the law by shipping Colombian narcotics into the United States via the U.S. maritime border and other means.”
“Palumbo Gangs” has “been described as a Colombian gang with a purported focus on securing the importation of drugs into the United States by utilizing crocodiles and piranhas from Colombia.” Buckley found it important to keep them in the United States, so that U.S. drug enforcement officials could continue to track them.
Because a number of other small divers in Colombia are involved in the criminal enterprise, their extradition is in question, she said. She said it was “disingenuous to suggest that a powerful drug cartel would require cocaine-laced piranhas or crocodiles to import cocaine.”
Buckley added: “Palumbo Gangs’ motto … appears to be ‘Cheng’s, fuck’ — names a local street name for one of Colombia’s most powerful drug cartels.”
“Cheng’s, fuck” was the word Palumbo Gangs used to make their 911 calls, the judge found. According to Buckley, that proves they don’t hold a grudge. “Palumbo Gangs have no need to retaliate against Colombia’s most powerful drug cartels,” she wrote.