February 10, 2015
Contact: Ana Pino
Phone Number: (787) 277-4700
DEA, Coast Guard, Customs And Border Protection, And Homeland Security Investigations Partner To Interdict $29 Million Cocaine Shipment, Detain 13 Smugglers
The smugglers on board a mother ship and delivery vessel were nabbed following a drug shipment transfer at sea
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Drug Enforcement (DEA), Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’(ICE) Homeland Security (HSI) seized a 989 (2,176 pounds) cocaine shipment and apprehended 13 men following an at-sea interdiction Tuesday, February 3rd, of a delivery vessel and coastal freighter, approximately eight nautical miles off the coast of Manatí, Puerto Rico.
The initial arrests involved two suspected smugglers, identified as Héctor Alexander Sánchez-Acosta and Guillermo Boada-González, both of Venezuelan nationality, who were apprehended on board the delivery vessel after it was launched from the 268-foot St. Vincent and Grenadines-flag coastal freighter Atlantic VII. On Wednesday, February 4, they were charged in a criminal complaint authorized by U.S. Magistrate Camille Vélez-Rivé with conspiracy to import 989 (2,176 pounds) of cocaine. The seized cocaine shipment was estimated to have a street value of approximately $29 million.
The Atlantic VII had eleven crewmembers on board. Four are Cuban nationals: Luis Armando Rivera-(master of the vessel), Maykel Agner Pedroso-Gonzales, Jesús Blanco-Cepero and Esteban Breto-González. Four are Dominican Republic nationals: Franklin De Jesús Valenzuela-Ramírez, Domingo Lima-Batista, Jonathan Escoto-Lugo and Bienvenido Ozuna. One is a Peru national, Edinson Quispe-Cano; one an Ecuador national, Dionisio Julio Palma Choez; and one a Panama national, Manuel Alexis Serrano-Guevara. The men were initially detained during a Coast Guard boarding on February 4th. On Friday, February 6, these defendants were also charged with conspiracy to import a controlled substance into the United States. All the defendants continue detained at the Metropolitan Detention Center.
Federal law enforcement authorities involved in the interdiction were working in support of the Caribbean Border Interagency Group'(CBIG) Operation Caribbean Guard and the DEA led Caribbean Corridor Strike Force.
“Our partnerships and interagency coordination allow for the successful interdiction of major drug shipments and bringing those responsible to justice,” said Cmdr. Heather Kelly, Sector San Juan chief of response. “Our commitment to securing the nation’s Caribbean maritime border is unwavering as is our resolve to protect the safety and security of the citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands from this threat.”
While on a routine patrol Tuesday night, the crew of a Customs and Border Protection DCH-8 maritime patrol aircraft detected the Atlantic VII acting as a mothership by hovering outside U.S. territorial waters then launching a small delivery vessel laden with suspicious packages. Once launched, the delivery vessel headed southbound, towards the northern coast of Puerto Rico, without any navigational lights. Coast Guard Station San Juan 45-foot Response Boat Medium, a 33-foot Special Purpose Craft-Law (SPC-LE), and CPB Office of Air and Marine operations marine unit vessels interdicted the smuggler’s delivery vessel. Their actions prevented the delivery vessel from making landfall.
The CBP MPA maintained constant surveillance as the Coast Guard 45-foot RBM and 33-foot SPC-LE arrived on scene and intercepted the go-fast vessel. The Coast Guard crews detected the suspected illegal drug shipment in plain sight, a total of 33 bales, and detained the two suspected smugglers on board. Shortly thereafter, the CBP marine unit arrived on scene and the crew assisted with the offload of contraband. A further inspection and testing of the suspected drug shipment revealed the contraband to be cocaine.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard Cutter Valiant interdicted and boarded the Atlantic VII, Wednesday morning, approximately 11 nautical miles from Puerto Rico as it attempted to flee the area.
The cocaine shipment, the detained smugglers, the delivery vessel, and the Atlantic VII were transported to Puerto Rico and transferred to DEA and ICE - HSI special agents for further investigation.
“Once again the combined efforts of federal law enforcement agencies resulted in the seizure of millions of dollars’ worth of narcotics. Our message continues to be the same: we will detect and interdict drug smugglers attempting to flood our island with their poisonous cargo,” said Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. “These arrests are a clear indication of the continued success of the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office created the CCSF to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations operating in the Caribbean. CCSF is part of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force that investigates South American-based drug trafficking organizations responsible for the movement of multi-kilogram quantities of narcotics using the Caribbean as a transshipment point for further distribution to the United States. The initiative is composed of Drug Enforcement (DEA), Immigrations and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigation the U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, FBI, the Coast Guard, CBP and Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces for Rapid Action.
The case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Glenn Goetchius.
The defendants are facing terms of imprisonment from 10 years to life for the narcotics violations. Criminal complaints are only charges and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.