On June 12, crew members of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Vigilant offloaded 3,100 pounds of marijuana seized from a go-fast boat intercepted in the Caribbean Sea.
The story on how Coast Guard personnel seized the marijuana in late May in waters between Panama and the Colombian island of San Andrés emerged last week in Miami federal court records.
According to a criminal complaint filed by a special agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the action unfolded May 27 when a go-fast vessel was spotted traveling in international waters about 100 miles south of San Andrés Island, a Colombian possession east of Nicaragua and north of Panama.
The Coast Guard cutter Resolute, which was patrolling nearby, gave chase and as it approached the go-fast its crew members began throwing objects into the water, according to the complaint.
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“The USCG Resolute was able to stop and secure the go-fast and its crew,” the complaint said. “USCG recovered a total of 62 bales weighing approximately 3,100 pounds.”
Coast Guard personnel boarded and declared jurisdiction over the go-fast because it could not verify its nationality. The complaint said the four crew members — Eduardo Enrique Mendoza Olivar, Johnny Henry Jones, José Inosente Reyes and Alexis Josue Varela — claimed to be from Costa Rica and operating their vessel under Costa Rican flag.
A DEA spokeswoman said her office had no comment on this case because it’s still under investigation.
Jonathan Brett Kasen, attorney for Jones, said his client has pleaded not guilty. He also said that his client is a fisherman in San Andrés Island, and not Costa Rican. Attorneys for the other defendants could not be reached for comment.
The men were detained and later transported to Miami where they were turned over to federal law enforcement agents for prosecution.
The criminal complaint did not say if the defendants told DEA agents where they sailed from or where they were taking the drugs. In prior similar interdictions, the drugs have been transported by one boat that left the shores of Colombia and then rendezvoused with a second boat to which the drug bales were transferred.
The case was part of the ongoing Operation Martillo dragnet in which U.S. ships, in association with assets from 14 other countries, seek to disrupt drug-trafficking routes in the Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Pacific.
Since it was launched Jan. 15, 2012, Operation Martillo (Spanish for hammer) has netted at least 1.14 million pounds of cocaine and 117,754 pounds of marijuana. It has also led to the arrest of at least 1,348 people in various operations under the program. The interdictions have resulted in a loss of about $8 billion in revenue for drug trafficking organizations, according to official U.S. estimates.
That same day that Coast Guard personnel at the Miami Beach base unloaded the seized marijuana, they also offloaded 14 bales of cocaine seized five days earlier, on May 22 — also as part of Operation Martillo.
Follow Alfonso Chardy on Twitter @AlfonsoChardy