Captain Of Refueling Boat For Drug Traffickers Sentenced To More Than 24 Years
Tampa, Florida - U.S. District Judge James S. Moody, Jr. today sentenced Celin Javier Puerto-Ortiz (43, Honduras) to 24 years and 4 months in federal prison for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, and possession with the intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Puerto-Ortiz pleaded guilty on June 4, 2012.
According to court documents, Puerto-Ortiz was the captain of the fishing vessel MR GEO, which doubled as a refueling boat for drug traffickers operating high-speed motorboats (called "go-fast" boats) in the Caribbean. On December 2, 2011, the United States Coast Guard and Navy encountered the MR GEO in international waters, off the coast of Colombia. When Puerto-Ortiz and his crew became aware of the law enforcement presence, the MR GEO began maneuvering erratically, and the crew began jettisoning bales of cocaine into the water. The U.S. Coast Guard and Navy ultimately recovered sixty-five bales, totaling more than two thousand kilograms of cocaine from the water.
This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, as part of the Panama Express Strike Force North (PANEX). It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Matt Jackson and Austin Shutt.
Panama Express Strike Force North (PANEX) is a federally approved Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) consisting of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Administration, United States Coast Guard, Internal Revenue Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Operation Panama Express North currently targets Colombian maritime smuggling organizations responsible for cocaine trafficking throughout the Caribbean to the United States and elsewhere for distribution.