Red hot chili prisoner: Man convicted for scheme to import cocaine hidden in peppers through Red Hook port

Not for eating: The Feds seized these chili peppers, which hid cocaine.
U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York

He’s in hot water!

A Pennsylvania man faces no less than 10 years behind bars after a Brooklyn federal jury convicted him of attempting to smuggle more than 15 kilograms of drugs into the country inside boxes of chili peppers shipped to the Red Hook Container Terminal.

The sentencing is a worthy punishment for a plot that the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York called dangerous — and idiotic.

“The defendant’s scheme to conceal 16 kilograms of cocaine in a shipment of chili peppers wasn’t such a hot idea, and with today’s verdict, he has been held responsible for his crimes,” Richard Donoghue said following the Feb. 14 conviction. “I commend the prosecutors and the Drug Enforcement Administration agents for their excellent work in preventing illegal narcotics from being distributed in our country.”

Cover story: The cocaine was stashed in these boxes filled with the spicy fruit.
U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York

Keystone State resident Humberto Baez, 50, worked as a produce importer and in 2016 started scheming with accomplices to bring cocaine from the Dominican Republic into the United States, according to prosecutors, who said he contacted a co-conspirator — whom Baez did not know was also working with the Feds — to store the drugs at the Red Hook port.

The pair set up two so-called dry runs, during which they shipped containers filled only with chili peppers to Kings County, to make it appear as if the duo’s operation was a legitimate business, prosecutors said.

But in February 2018, Baez alerted his partner that about 16 kilograms of cocaine hidden in a shipment of cardboard boxes filled with the spicy fruit — which he referred to in code as “ripe tomatoes” — arrived in Florida from the Dominican Republic.

Baez instructed his accomplice to drive the cocaine up to his Pennsylvania warehouse, but on March 1 of that year, law enforcement officials seized the drugs before they ever made it out of the Sunshine State, according to the Feds, who said officials arrested the suspect later that month in Manhattan.

Off the market: A Brooklyn federal jury on Thursday convicted a Pennsylvania man of attempting to smuggle this cocaine into the United States through the Red Hook Container Terminal.
U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

More from Around New York