Jury Convicts Five Traffickers for Attempting to Smuggle More Than $20 Million of Cocaine in International Waters
TAMPA, Fla. – United States (U.S.) Attorney Roger B. Handberg announces that a federal jury has found Isaac Enriquez Oyando (34, Mexico), Romeo Santos Hernandez (36, Mexico), John Macias Agua (34, Ecuador), Jaime Velez Arcentales (40, Ecuador) and Eddy Anchundia Velez (32, Ecuador) guilty of conspiracy and possession with the intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine on a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Each faces a minimum mandatory penalty of 10 years, and up to life, in federal prison. The sentencing hearings have been scheduled for November 18, 2022. The defendants had been indicted on January 21, 2021. A sixth defendant was severed due to a COVID-19 exposure during the trial.
According to evidence presented at trial, the defendants were part of a seven-person crew smuggling 760 kilograms of cocaine from South America to Mexico. On January 14, 2021, aerial surveillance spotted a suspicious vessel in international waters more than 200 miles south of Huatulco, Mexico. A law enforcement detachment from the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Cutter Steadfast interdicted the vessel and found seven men onboard – including the five convicted at trial – in the process of trying to throw bales of cocaine overboard.
During the trial, the defendants from Mexico claimed that they were tricked into going on a drug trip and the defendants from Ecuador claimed they were adrift at sea and were rescued shortly before the USCG showed up. At trial, the jury heard evidence that investigators learned of a plan that one of the seven co-conspirators would plead guilty and then provide false information to law enforcement exonerating the others. Bran-Lopez was that person, and testified for the defense that he had tricked his co-defendants into thinking they were going on a fishing trip because his family had been kidnapped. However, the timeline of events in Bran-Lopez’s testimony did not match evidence obtained from searches of cellphones and GPS data showing that he and his coconspirators were at sea days before he claimed the kidnapping happened.
This case was investigated by the Panama Express Strike Force, an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) comprised of agents and analysts from the United States Coast Guard Investigative Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and U.S. Southern Command's Joint Interagency Task Force South. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF.
The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida.
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