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Feds: Nogales doctor removed marijuana dealers’ fingerprints

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

A Mexican physician from Nogales performed plastic surgery to remove drug traffickers’ fingerprints to help them avoid arrest, according to a federal indictment announced Friday.

Jose L. Covarrubias surgically removed the fingerprints of co-defendant Marc George and others implicated in a marijuana-dealing ring, U.S. Attorney Thomas A. Marino said.

Covarrubias, 49, of Nogales, Son., and Nogales, Ariz., was arrested Wednesday by federal drug agents. He was charged with conspiring to distribute more than a ton of marijuana in central Pennsylvania and elsewhere, and with being an accomplice and accessory after the fact to marijuana dealing.

The charges are the result of an investigation into a Harrisburg-based drug ring in which 34 people have been charged and 27 have pleaded guilty or are expected to plead guilty.

“We heard those stories, but we didn’t believe them when we heard them during the course of the investigation,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney William Behe in Harrisburg. “We caught Marc George and we all became believers.”

Federal prosecutors allege that the organization was headed by Rodney “Jamaican Mike” Hutchinson, 38, and sent money by courier to Tucson to buy Mexican marijuana. The ring then allegedly sold it in central Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, New York and elsewhere.

Covarrubias allegedly removed George’s fingerprints sometime in the summer of 2005. George, 42, of Jamaica, has been indicted on charges of money laundering and drug trafficking in connection with the same investigation.

Pennsylvania state police seized $391,000 from a vehicle George was driving in May 2004, according to the indictment. The following February, police stopped George in New Jersey and seized $351,000 in cash, it said.

The indictment did not say how the fingerprints were removed, and an expert with the Latent Print Certification Board said it would be difficult, if not impossible, to successfully remove all the ridge detail from someone’s hands.

“I assume that it could occur, but I’ve not heard of it occurring,” said Lyla Thompson, the print board’s chairwoman, who works at the Johnson County crime lab near Kansas City, Kan. “It would be a pretty extensive procedure.”

Covarrubias, Hutchinson, George and five others were named in a superseding indictment issued by a grand jury in Harrisburg on Wednesday.

Hutchinson’s lawyer declined comment Friday, and George’s lawyer did not immediately return a phone message.

Trial in the case is scheduled for August.

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