On June 17, a U.S. District judge in Tampa, Florida, sentenced a man to prison for 19 year and seven months for his role in a drug trafficking ring. According to a statement issued by the U.S. Attorney’s office, the 39-year-old defendant was instrumental in organizing cocaine smuggling into the U.S. via semi-submersible submarines. On March 11, the defendant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute 5 kilos of cocaine while onboard a vessel subject to U.S. jurisdiction.

The statement says that the defendant recruited and managed the day-to-day operations of a crew who built two submarines in Venezuela. The assembly of the submarines took place during the summer of 2011. On July 13, 2011, members of the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted one of the submarines in the Caribbean. The vessel was roughly 45 feet in length and was hauling an estimated 232 bales of cocaine, which later weighed out at about 5,861 kilos.

Just months later, the Coast Guard captured the other sub off the coast of Honduras on Sept. 17, 2011. The crew aboard that sub intentionally sank it in anticipation of their capture. Officials estimate the vessel was between 50-60 feet long and probably had over 3,000 kilos of cocaine onboard when it sank.

The defendant, who is from Buenaventura, Columbia, was being investigated by a joint task force of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Coast Guard as well as other federal agencies. The task force is collectively known as the Panama Express Strike Force. The group’s primary tasking is to thwart drug-trafficking operations seeking to smuggle drugs from South America into the United States.

Criminal defendants accused of drug crimes are sometimes summoned to appear in front of grand juries. Some of these defendants give little thought to retaining an attorney prior to these important proceedings. Perhaps they figure that having an attorney with them is not important because they haven’t yet been arrested. That is an incorrect assumption. A person accused of federal drug crimes needs the assistance of someone experienced in such matters to help guide them through that crucial phase.

Source: FBI, “Colombian Drug Trafficker Sentenced to More Than 19 Years in Federal Prison” No author given, Jun. 18, 2014

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