The number of defendants indicted in a bizarre case involving large amounts of cocaine and emeralds is up to four.
The U.S. Attorney's Office issued a sealed arrest warrant last week for a 46-year-old San Diego man named Nick Voulgaris after including him in an indictment reached by a grand jury earlier this month against South Floridians Marin Spariosu, Juan Antonio Soberon and Ben Handa.
All four men are federally charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute five kilograms of cocaine and could serve life prison terms.
Federal officials will not discuss the indictments or Voulgaris' arrest warrant. But a non-law enforcement source with knowledge of the case said Voulgaris recruited investors to put up money so he could buy hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of emeralds that, the backers were told, would be resold in legitimate transactions in New York City for a profit.
But instead, the emeralds were to be used as collateral on a 10-kilogram cocaine deal Spariosu and Soberon set up with a drug smuggler who turned out to be an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent, according to a Nov. 3 arrest affidavit.
The source said he is not convinced Voulgaris knew the emeralds were going to be used in a cocaine transaction. As of press time Wednesday afternoon, Voulgaris had not been arrested.
The source said Voulgaris collected at least $250,000 from investors.
According to the original arrest affidavit, the undercover DEA agent met with Soberon on Oct. 11 at the Dolphin Mall to discuss money laundering and buying large amounts of cocaine.
Soberon, 56, allegedly told the agent he could use an emerald company in downtown Miami to wash the profits from a 10-kilo cocaine deal. Spariosu, Soberon's associate, owns a gem company at the Seybold Building, a well-known jewelry marketplace in Miami.
The agent told Soberon he could sell him 10 kilograms of cocaine at $28,000 a kilo. Soberon told the agent, according to the arrest report, that he could pay for the cocaine with $300,000 worth of emeralds.
On Nov. 3, Spariosu, 46, allegedly met with the undercover agent at a gem appraiser's office in the Seybold Building and gave the agent emeralds valued at about $215,000. Spariosu was arrested after the agent left with the gems.
DEA agents arrested Soberon later that day. Both men, according to the DEA arrest report, waived their Miranda rights and admitted to being involved in cocaine deal.
Spariosu quickly agreed to set up a bogus drug deal with Handa, who was coming from Naples with more emeralds.
Agents arrested Handa in the parking lot of a Miami Lakes Carraba's restaurant at 10:30 p.m. after he allegedly exchanged a duffle bag full of emeralds for a suitcase containing fake cocaine given to him by Spariosu.
DEA agents also arrested Stephanie Alonso 19, but prosecutors did not follow through with criminal charges. Her attorney, David Tucker, would not comment on why his client was let go.