By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The wife of the Army commander leading the U.S. government's antidrug efforts in Colombia has been charged in connection with a cocaine smuggling ring that shipped the drug from an American military base in Bogotá to New York City, the Voice has learned.
Laurie Hiett, the wife of Colonel James Hiett, was named in a criminal complaint filed in late June in Brooklyn federal court, according to records. She has been charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
According to a related search warrant application, Hiett admitted to federal investigators that she had mailed "six packages" for "her husband's chauffeur," but claimed that she "did not know the contents" of those packages. On May 23, one of those parcels was searched by U.S. Customs agents in Miami and was found to contain about 2.7 pounds of cocaine. Days later, a second parcel intercepted at a Mail Boxes Etc. branch in upper Manhattan was also found to contain cocaine.
The first package, destined for Jackson Heights, Queens, carried Laurie Hiett's name as its return address and was mailed from the U.S. military base in Bogotá. After undercover postal inspectors and New York City police delivered the package on May 25, they arrested Hernan Arcila and charged him with criminal possession of a controlled substance. The 53-year-old Queens man, now jailed at the Queens House of Detention, is scheduled for a court appearance on August 25.
During subsequent questioning by the NYPD, Arcila told police that he had "received five or six shipments of cocaine that had been sent in the same way," according to court records. Arcila added that he had been paid $1500 for "each of the previous packages he had received," but court documents do not indicate who paid him to accept the shipments, which were made via the U.S. Postal Service.
Federal investigators then interviewed Hiett, the wife of Colonel James Hiett, commander of the 200-member military group now working with the Colombian government on counter-narcotics measures. Laurie Hiett, according to court records, said that she had "sent six packages to New York through the mail on behalf of her husband's chauffeur. She claimed that she did not know the contents of the packages she had shipped."
Federal investigators proceeded to review U.S. Customs Service declarations that were completed for packages sent from the Bogotá military base and destined for Arcila in New York. They discovered that one package, sent to a Mail Boxes Etc. on First Avenue, had never been claimed.
That parcel, mailed from Colombia on May 26, carried the name of a woman who was "married to a serviceman assigned to the military base in Bogotá," according to court documents. When investigators questioned her, she said that "she had been asked to send the package to New York by Laurie Hiett as a favor." Pursuant to a federal search warrant, NYPD detectives and customs agents seized the package and discovered cocaine inside.
Laurie Hiett could not be reached for comment. Raul Duany, a spokesman for the U.S. Army's Southern Command, which is overseeing the American military's Colombian operation, said late Thursday afternoon that Army officials were planning to release a statement regarding the Laurie Hiett matter.
Laurie Hiett's involvement in the cocaine smuggling ring comes at a time when U.S. military officials have stepped up their efforts to help the Colombian government combat drug production. As part of that effort, General Barry McCaffrey, the White House drug czar, visited Bogotá in late July and proposed doubling U.S. aid to Colombia, which currently stands at $250 million.