Crime

A ton of cocaine is worth $56 million. How many years in federal prison is it worth?

The U.S. Coast Guard unloads cocaine from one of their many interceptions of drug boats.
The U.S. Coast Guard unloads cocaine from one of their many interceptions of drug boats. dneal@MiamiHerald.com

When the U.S. Coast Guard halted the speeding boat “Dios Es Todo” (God Is All) in January, the Coast Guard crew found one satellite telephone, two GPS devices, two marine radios, four men and over a ton of cocaine.

Despite the they-made-me-do-it defense by Dios crew member Santos Gonzales-Cahvec, he received a 20-year prison sentence last week after he was convicted on cocaine trafficking charges in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

One of the charges — conspiracy to possess more than five kilograms of a controlled substance on a vessel — is subject to U.S. jurisdiction. Ecuadorean Jhonny Caicedo-Ayovi and Colombian Luis Montano-Castillo each pleaded guilty to that and got three years and four months, and four years and two months in prison, respectively. When caught 382 nautical miles northwest of Darwin Islands, Galapagos, Ecuador, they told Coast Guard authorities they’d been forced to transport the drugs by dealers threatening their family. In court documents, Montano-Castillo admitted those stories were lies concocted extemporaneously when the Coast Guard intercepted them.

Gonzales-Cahvec, 38, decided to take a similar story to a jury trial. He was just a Guatemalan who got kidnapped while in Cali, Colombia, and forced to help move the 2,450 pounds of cocaine (street value, just over $69 million, according to GlobalDrugSurvey.com) from Colombia to Mexico. But prosecution witnesses said Gonzales-Cahvec was sent by a Mexican cartel to make sure the cocaine got transferred to another boat for delivery to Mexico.

The fourth member of the crew, Ecuadorean Santo Vera-Zambrano, is a fugitive. When the Coast Guard medical staff diagnosed Vera-Zambrano as having a heart attack during the arrest at sea, he was flown to a Costa Rican hospital. He was declared a fugitive in July.

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

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