Final Crew Member Sentenced in Multi-Ton Maritime Cocaine Seizure
Tampa, Florida - United States Attorney Robert E. O'Neill announces the sentencing of the fourth crew member of a vessel smuggling an estimated 6,700 kilograms of cocaine in the Caribbean Sea. Manuel Cuero Caicedo (31, Colombia, South America) was sentenced yesterday to 14 years in prison by the Honorable Steven D. Merryday. Caicedo was part of a manned self-propelled semi-submersible vessel or SPSS that was interdicted by the U.S. Coast Guard cutter (USCGC) MOHAWK on September 30, 2011, in international waters, approximately 110 miles off of the coast of Honduras. The SPSS sank during the interdiction and USCGC MOHAWK officers detained the four man crew, who were later transferred to Tampa for prosecution.
Shortly after the interdiction, a multi-agency effort began to recover the suspected drug cargo of the sunken SPSS. This effort included the deployment of a Federal Bureau of Investigation Underwater Search and Evidence Response Team, which conducted dive operations at the site of the submerged vessel from the USCGC CYPRESS. The recovery operations from the SPSS yielded packages of cocaine totaling an estimated 6,700 kilograms.
Other SPSS crew members Jorge Alfredo Colomer Hylock, Gulforth Sual Romera Alegria, and Marcos Salazar Obregon, were previously sentenced to 14 years in prison, respectively.
This case was investigated by OCDETF's Panama Express Strike Force, comprised of agents and analysts from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, United States Coast Guard Investigative Service, Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, and Joint Interagency Task Force South. It was prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Austin Shutt.