Emerald and cocaine deal leave four facing life

DEA agents recently broke up an alleged drug deal involving hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of emeralds.
DEA agents recently broke up an alleged drug deal involving hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of emeralds.

Marin Spariosu, the owner of a Miami gem company, and Juan Soberon had a dream. Granted, their alleged ambition was highly illegal, but a grand goal it was nonetheless.

According to a federal arrest affidavit filed last week, the two South Floridians wanted to make enough money on a deal involving almost $300,000 in emeralds and 10 kilograms of cocaine that they could repair a sailboat and use the vessel to smuggle up to two more tons of cocaine from Colombia to Italy. 

They explained their plan on Oct. 30 to a man Soberon met just days before.

Speaking at the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant at the Dolphin Mall near Doral, the man said he could supply the cocaine for $28,000 per kilogram. Soberon, 56, told the man that he could provide the emeralds as collateral for the drugs, with the understanding that he would sell the cocaine and give the proceeds to the man.

This man, however, was an undercover agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, working with the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force Group 422, which includes Monroe County. The DEA earlier that month received word from a confidential informant that Soberon was looking to buy large quantities of cocaine and offer money-laundering services. 

Using a number the informant gave him, the undercover agent called Soberon and the two met on Oct. 11 at Starbucks, also at the Dolphin Mall. Soberon, according to the affidavit, offered money-laundering services to the agent, saying he could use an emerald company operating out of the Seybold Building in downtown Miami to wash the drug profits.

Spariosu, 46, is listed as the registered agent for Emeralds & Gems LLC, which has an address at the Seybold Building — a well-known jewelry marketplace.

On Nov. 3, Soberon called the DEA agent asking about the cocaine. The agent said he had 15 kilos ready, but Soberon said he and Spariosu needed to make sure they had enough emeralds to cover the cost of the extra five kilograms. Before ending the conversation, Soberon assured the agent that he had enough emeralds to cover the cost of 70 kilograms of coke.

Later that day, the agent and Spariosu met at Joseph W. Tenhagen Appraisals Inc., a gem appraisal business, also at the Seybold Building. According to the arrest affidavit, a Joseph W. Tenhagen representative had a black box with several emeralds inside and appraisal documents that listed the stones value at $215,000.

Spariosu, according to the affidavit, told the appraiser that two more shipments of emeralds were expected to arrive the following day, and they were worth $600,000 and $900,000 respectively.

Spariosu told the appraiser to conduct his audit of the gems and then give them directly to the DEA agent. 

The agent then took the original shipments of stones and left the building. Once outside, the agent called Soberon and told him to call an associate who would give Soberon the cocaine. The associate was also an undercover agent.

In the meantime, Spariosu was arrested after he left the Seybold Building. 

The second undercover agent arranged a meeting with Soberon at the parking lot of the La Carreta restaurant, near the Westland Mall at Northwest 103rd Street in Hialeah. Soberon said “his niece,” Stephanie Alonso, would pick up the drugs.

Alonso, 19, met the DEA agent in the parking lot and told him she had two suitcases for the “stuff.” But the agent called the original undercover officer to say that Soberon was not at the meeting. The original agent called Soberon to find out what was going on. Soberon then called the second agent and asked if his “niece” was there and if he could talk to her. After hanging up, Alonso told the agent the deal was postponed for a day.

Surveillance agents followed Alonso as she drove to a parking lot, where she met Soberon. The agents arrested them and found two empty backpacks in the trunk of Alonso’s car. 

According to the DEA affidavit, Alonso, Soberon and Spariosu all waived their Miranda rights and agreed to speak with agents. Soberon reportedly admitted he planned to buy 10 kilograms of cocaine. He said Alonso, who is Spariosu’s daughter, would receive about $200 for every kilogram sold.

Spariosu also admitted to agents that he planned to buy cocaine from the undercover agent, but he said the deal was for eight kilos. He said Soberon told him that if Spariosu’s emeralds were used as collateral, then Soberon would pay Spariosu $50,000 from the drug transaction.

Spariosu said Soberon asked Alonso to pick up a “package,” but she never knew the job involved drugs. But Alonso told agents that she did know that all the meetings involved cocaine.

She said that on Nov. 3, she was asked by her father to take the emeralds to an unidentified person in downtown Miami, but she couldn’t go. But she did agree to go to a flea market in Hialeah to buy two backpacks that would be used to conceal cocaine. She told agents that she believed each sack would be used to hold five kilograms of coke. 

For her efforts, Alonso said she would be given a new car.

“She said that because both her father and Soberon had criminal records, they told her she would be better to pick up the drugs because she appeared to look more innocent,” the arrest affidavit states. 

Spariosu told DEA agents that the owner of the emeralds was a man named Ben Handa, and that Handa would “probably be interested in purchasing cocaine in exchange for the emeralds.” 

According to the affidavit, after being arrested, Spariosu agreed to cooperate with the DEA and set up a deal with Handa to exchange his emeralds for 15 kilograms of cocaine. The two men met in a Carraba’s restaurant parking lot in Miami Lakes after 10 p.m. on Nov. 3. Spariosu was wearing a wire.

Spariosu examined the emeralds, which were in a duffle bag inside Handa’s car. Then the men walked to Spariosu’s car, and he opened the trunk, where there was a suitcase containing 15 kilograms of bogus cocaine. According to the DEA’s report, Handa zipped up the suitcase and put it in the trunk of his car. He was then arrested and admitted that he came to Miami from Naples to pick up 15 kilograms of cocaine. 

Alonso, Handa, Soberon and Spariosu all face a charge of conspiring to possess with the intent to sell 5 kilograms or more of cocaine. The charge is punishable by up to life in federal prison, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Marlene Fernandez-Karavetsos.

Spariosu did not have a lawyer listed in federal court records this week. Lawyers for Alonso, Handa and Soberon did not return e-mails with questions about their clients’ cases.