Multi-Ton Cocaine Seizure from Interdicted Drug Smuggling Vessel
|U.S. Attorney’s Office October 28, 2011|
TAMPA, FL—United States Attorney Robert E. O’Neill announces the recovery of an estimated 6,700 kilograms of cocaine from a submerged drug smuggling vessel in the Caribbean Sea. The vessel, a self-propelled semi-submersible vessel, or SPSS, was interdicted by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) MOHAWK on September 30, 2011, in international waters of the Caribbean some 110 miles off of the coast of Honduras. The vessel sank during the interdiction, and USCGC MOHAWK detained the four crew members, who were later transferred to Tampa for prosecution.
Shortly after the interdiction, a multi-agency effort began to recover the suspected drug cargo of the sunken SPSS. This effort included the deployment of the FBI Laboratory’s Technical Dive Team, located in Quantico, Virginia, which conducted dive operations at the site of the submerged vessel from USCGC CYPRESS. These operations yielded evidence including packages of cocaine totaling an estimated 6,700 kilograms from the SPSS.
Today, this evidence arrived at Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg aboard USCGC CYPRESS, where it will be transferred to the custody of investigators of the Panama Express Strike Force. The crew of the SPSS (Jorge Colomer, 47, of Honduras; Guilforth Romero, 24, of Honduras; Manuel Cuero, 30, of Colombia; and Marcos Salazar, 30, of Colombia) have been indicted by a federal grand jury in the Middle District of Florida for violation of the Drug Trafficking Vessel Interdiction Act of 2008 and are being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tampa. If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in federal prison.
A similar recovery operation earlier this year yielded over 6,000 kilograms of cocaine from an interdicted SPSS that also sank in the Caribbean. The crew of that vessel is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tampa.
An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of the federal criminal laws, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.
This case is being investigated by OCDETF’s Panama Express Strike Force, comprised of agents and analysts from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, United States Coast Guard Investigative Service, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, and Joint Interagency Task Force South. It will be prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Austin Shutt.