U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew has sentenced three Colombian nationals to federal prison terms for conspiracy to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine while onboard a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Carlos Chavez-Aguirre (35), Yesid Caicedo Asprilla (50), and David Hurtado Vallecilla (45) were sentenced to 20, 12, and 11 years, respectively. They had pleaded guilty in August and September 2019.
According to court documents, on June 18, 2019, while on routine patrol in the East Pacific Ocean, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) Cutter Munro located a 50-ft long self-propelled semi-submersible submarine with a sealed cabin approximately 92 nautical miles northwest of Tumaco, Colombia, in international waters.
USCG law enforcement officers boarded the semi-submersible submarine while it was still moving. The boarding led to the arrest of five individuals, and the recovery of 7,683 kilograms of cocaine (almost 17,000 pounds) worth approximately $192 million.
The two remaining defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on January 14, 2020 and February 12, 2020.
Carlos Chavez-Aguirre had previously been convicted of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine while onboard a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.
“This case highlights the interagency cooperation that fuels the mission of the Panama Express Strike Force; which is to disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal organizations,” said FBI Tampa Division Special Agent in Charge Michael F. McPherson.
“This high-profile narcotics interdiction case was the result of the investigative efforts HSI and our partner agencies at the Panama Express Strike Force conduct on a daily basis,” said HSI Tampa Assistant Special Agent in Charge Hector Colon.
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, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force South. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Diego F. Novaes.