Samuel J. Heyman Service To America Medals
2002 Winner
Homeland Security and Law Enforcement


Robert Rutherford

Criminal Investigator/Group Supervisor
U.S. Customs Service
Miami, Florida


Organized multi-agency personnel into a cohesive unit which led to a reduction in narcotics trafficking and crime in South Florida.


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Special Agent Robert Rutherford is the Group Supervisor for the US Customs Service’s Air/Marine Investigations Group in Miami, Florida. That means he makes his living making life hard for drug traffickers.

In 1999, Rutherford noticed a dramatic increase in the amount of illegal narcotics—specifically cocaine—arriving into South Florida from Haiti. Rising crime in the area was attributed to this infusion of cocaine.

Rutherford identified the problem and, on his own initiative, formulated a plan called Operation River Sweep to block the Miami River as a gateway for these illegal shipments. He met with representatives of local, state and federal agencies to discuss the correlation between the amount of narcotics arriving from Haiti and the local increase in crime. After numerous meetings and presentations with ranking members of these agencies, he obtained a commitment from them to support the Customs Service in attacking the problem.

Under Rutherford’s leadership, a first-of-its-kind intra-agency taskforce utilized innovative techniques to develop new sources of information and intelligence to attack the cocaine problem. He effectively incorporated manpower and resources from the different agencies, with different jurisdictional responsibilities, and successfully merged them with local US Customs teams. As a result of this new approach, the US Customs Service arrested over 120 violators, seized over 13,000 lbs. of cocaine and 21 coastal freighters between 1999 and 2001.

These accomplishments dramatically reduced the flow of narcotics into the US from Haiti, and the local price of cocaine skyrocketed. Local law enforcement agencies noted a decrease in crime in the areas adjacent to the Miami River, which enhanced the safety and the quality of life for area residents. This effort also kept a significant amount of cocaine from city streets throughout the US.

Because of these intensive enforcement efforts, the surviving smuggling organizations altered their methods and in late 2000 began to again flood South Florida with cocaine.

The following year, Rutherford developed a second multi-jurisdictional taskforce named Operation River Walk to target the surviving smuggling organizations and those involved in smuggling weapons, currency and stolen merchandise and vehicles. It involved over three hundred local law enforcement officers from over 30 local, state and federal agencies.

This ongoing operation has resulted in over 230 arrests, the seizure of nearly 12,000 lbs. of cocaine and 3,400 lbs. of marijuana and 41 vessels.

Coworker Dennis McLean succinctly summed up Rutherford’s many contributions: “Without his vision, leadership and ability to join personnel and resources into a cohesive unit, these operations would not have been possible.”


This medalist was the recipient of the Justice and Law Enforcement Medal. This medal was combined with the Homeland Security category in 2013.


Honoree Details

Robert Rutherford

Criminal Investigator/Group Supervisor
U.S. Customs Service
Miami, Florida


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