U.S. District Judge William P. Dimitrouleas has sentenced a Colombian man to more than five years in the federal penitentiary as part of a drug-trafficking case that drew international attention because it involved the transportation of tons of cocaine aboard a makeshift vessel that resembled a submarine.
Dimitrouleas sentenced Nelson Penagos on Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale federal court, closing the case against a defendant who came to the attention of American authorities on March 29, 2012, when the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted the strange-looking craft in waters off the Honduran Caribbean coast.
When the vessel stopped, Coast Guard personnel realized it was a vessel known as a semi-submersible or “narco-submarine” built to carry at least 3 tons of cocaine.
Penagos, 48, pleaded guilty on Jan. 6 in the case, originally filed by a federal grand jury Oct. 17, 2013.
According to court records, the case began when investigators in Colombia linked Penagos and others to a drug-trafficking organization, or DTO, specialized in hauling large quantities of cocaine in semi-submersibles from Colombia to Central America.
“Through an extensive Colombian wiretap investigation, and with the assistance of a cooperating source familiar with the DTO’s activities, Colombian law enforcement authorities identified the voices of the defendants speaking during numerous lawfully intercepted telephone conversations planning cocaine shipments for the DTO,” according to a document in the case file. Penagos played a significant role in the activities of the group, according to the document.
“The role of Penagos," it added, "was to transport money to be used as payments for the DTO’s activities, including the obtainment of materials needed to construct the self-propelled semi-submersible submarines."
According to the Coast Guard, the drug subs are self-propelled and can travel up to 5,000 miles.
The semi-submersible voyage linked to Penagos ended on March 29, 2012, when a U.S. government patrol plane spotted the vessel.
“After receiving permission from Honduran authorities,” according to court documents, the U.S. Coast Guard pursued the sub into the territorial waters of Honduras.
When the semi-submersible crewmen saw the Coast Guard, they scuttled the vessel in 3,000 feet of water.
No cargo was recovered, according to documents.