SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – On April 14, 2021, a Federal Grand Jury in the District of Puerto Rico returned a four-count indictment charging three individuals with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance aboard a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, as well as violations of the Drug Trafficking Vessel Interdiction Act (DTVIA), announced W. Stephen Muldrow, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico.
The indictment charges that, on or about April 8, 2021, on the high seas, defendants Arturo González-Quiñones, Freiman Yepes-Ospina, and José Álvaro Córdoba-Rentería, conspired to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, conspired to operate and embark in a semi-submersible vessel without nationality, and to navigate thereon into and through waters beyond the outer limit of any country’s territorial sea, with the intent to evade detection, in violation of the DTVIA.
The United States Coast Guard seized approximately 2,500 kilograms of cocaine that the defendants transported on board a semi-submersible vessel. The shipment of cocaine has a wholesale value of approximately $75 million — using a wholesale price of $30,000 per kilogram of cocaine.
The interdiction was the result of multi-agency efforts in support of U.S. Southern Command’s enhanced counter-narcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere, the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) programs, and the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force (CCSF).
The OCDETF CCSF is a multi-agency task force operating in the District of Puerto Rico focusing on attacking command and control elements of Caribbean and South American-based Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs). The CCSF targets the smuggling of shipments of narcotics into Puerto Rico, the transshipment of drugs to the Continental United States, as well as the laundering of drug proceeds using bulk cash smuggling and sophisticated money laundering activities. The signatory agencies to the CCSF are the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the United States Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS), the United States Marshals Service (USMS), and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico.
Law enforcement agencies that provide critical and essential support to the CCSF, especially with respect to drug interdiction efforts, include: (a) the United States Coast Guard, (b) the United States Customs and Border Protection, Office of Field Operations, Caribbean Air and Marine Branch, (c) the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety, (c) the Puerto Rico Police Bureau, (d) the Puerto Rico Joint Forces of Rapid Action (“Fuerzas Unidas de Rapida Accion” – FURA), and (e) the United States Border Patrol.
“Since the beginning of October 2020, the CCSF and supporting agencies have seized over 17,000 kilograms of cocaine and charged 82 defendants in connection with those seizures,” said United States Attorney Muldrow. “The CCSF will also continue to pursue the command and control elements of the transnational criminal organizations involved in these drug trafficking and related money laundering activities. Rest assured that we are steadfast in our resolve to protect our borders and our community from these criminal cartels.”
Using a wholesale value of $30,000 per kilogram of cocaine seized, the over 17,000 kilograms of cocaine seized by the CCSF in FY21 has a wholesale value of $510,000,000. The over 17,000 kilograms of cocaine seized by the CCSF during FY21 significantly outpace the CCSF cocaine seizures in FY19 and FY20. Also, the seizures described above relate only to the CCSF, and do not include other drug seizures unrelated to the CCSF.
The prosecutors in charge of the prosecution of the case are U.S. Coast Guard Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Tremble; Chief of the Transnational Organized Crime Section, Assistant U.S. Attorney Max Pérez-Bouret; and Deputy Chief of the Transnational Organized Crime Section, Assistant U.S. Attorney Vanessa Bonhomme. If convicted the defendants face a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years up to life in prison on the drug trafficking charges and a maximum sentence of fifteen years in prison for violations of the DTVIA (18 U.S.C. § 2285).
Indictments contain only charges and are not evidence of guilt. Defendants are presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
# # #