Three charged with turning ocean into international drug trafficking superhighway
HOUSTON – Three Colombian citizens are set to appear in federal court for their alleged roles in a drug smuggling attempt involving more than 1,300 kilograms of cocaine, announced DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge Steven S. Whipple and U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.
Jesus Alfredo De La Cruz Orobio, 59; Juan David Portocarrero Diaz, 34; and Milton Valencia Blandon, 29, are set to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christina Bryan today at either 10 a.m. or 2 p.m.
A Houston grand jury returned the indictment on Dec. 5.
The charges contained in the criminal complaint, filed on Dec. 2, allege that on Nov. 21, 2019, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Thetis was on routine patrol off the Pacific Coast of Colombia and Ecuador. At that time, they allegedly detected a long low profile go-fast vessel 81 nautical miles southeast of Malpelo Island, Colombia. The charges allege the USCG stopped the vessel which did not have a flag, registration documents, homeport name and nor any identification on the hull.
The charges allege authorities boarded the boat and found three crewman, at which time Orobio identified himself as the master of the boat. According to the allegations, USGC conducted a search and discovered 54 bales of cocaine weighing approximately 1,321 kilograms in the hold of the boat along with sophisticated satellite communication and global positioning devices.
The three crewmen are charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine on a vessel in the high seas in violation of the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act and the Drug Trafficking Vessel Interdiction Act of 2008.
This is the second such prosecution in the Southern District of Texas under a statute that allows any jurisdiction in the United States to prosecute such smugglers. The law gives the United States jurisdiction over “stateless” vessels without nationality found on the high seas with contraband.
If convicted, each man faces a minimum of 10 years and up to life in federal prison as well as a possible $10 million maximum fine.
The Drug Enforcement Administration and USCG conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Gallagher is prosecuting the case.
# # #