Three detained off Jamaica, brought to Miami on drug-trafficking charges

In this 2015 file photo, members of the U.S. Coast Guard unload drugs from Coast Guard vessels in Miami Beach.
In this 2015 file photo, members of the U.S. Coast Guard unload drugs from Coast Guard vessels in Miami Beach. El Nuevo Herald File

Yet another group of Central Americans has been detained in the Caribbean and then brought to Miami to stand trial on drug-trafficking charges.

Three men — Julio Bravo Pineda, Andrés Albeto Dávila-Méndoza and Otman Sing González — and a minor who was not identified by name, were intercepted on their boat in Jamaican territorial waters by the U.S. Coast Guard whose personnel found bales containing marijuana, according to Miami federal court records.

The men were then brought to Miami where they are now awaiting trial in federal court. They have been indicted and have pleaded not guilty.

It is the most recent case in a long series of similar boat interceptions by U.S. vessels in the Caribbean, Atlantic and Pacific aimed at disrupting the maritime routes used by Colombian and Mexican drug-trafficking organizations. Hundreds of Mexicans, Colombians, Ecuadorans, Guatemalans, Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans have been detained on the high seas and then brought to Miami for prosecution in the last few years that maritime drug-interdictions have been stepped up.

The Jamaica case began June 4 when a U.S. patrol aircraft spotted a go-fast boat stopped on the water about 19 miles south of the Jamaican coast, within the island nation’s territorial waters, according to a criminal complaint filed in Miami federal court by a special agent of Homeland Security Investigations, a unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The patrol aircraft alerted the nearby Coast Guard cutter Confidence, which received Jamaican government permission to investigate, according to the complaint.

The Confidence then launched a helicopter whose crew requested a small boat with a boarding party to inspect the vessel with three outboard engines bobbing in the water more closely.

"When the Coast Guard small boat approached the go-fast vessel, they observed multiple packages on board the vessel, 10 large fuel barrels, and four crew members on board the go-fast vessel," according to the Homeland Security criminal complaint.

The boat captain, who said he was Nicaraguan and that his boat was registered in Costa Rica, advised the Coast Guard that he was traveling from Jamaica to Costa Rica.

When they boarded the go-fast, Coast Guard personnel seized 164 bales of marijuana weighing 7,700 pounds, the criminal complaint said.

After being brought to the United States and arrested, the defendants acknowledged that they were transporting marijuana from Jamaica to Costa Rica when the engines of the go-fast vessel failed, according to the criminal complaint.

On the voyage from Costa Rica to Jamaica, the crewmen said they carried cocaine, according to the complaint.

The complaint does not list the nationalities of the other three people aboard the boat, or whether the minor was brought to Miami or returned to his country of origin.

The men on the boat were indicted by a Miami grand jury on June 8. They pleaded not guilty three days later and are now awaiting trial.

Homeland Security declined comment because the case is still in court and the defense attorneys could not be located for comment.