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South America-Based Cocaine Trafficker Sentenced In Manhattan Federal Court To 12 Years In Prison On International Cocaine Conspiracy Charges

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Marcel Acevedo Sarmiento Was Prosecuted As Part of “Operation Relentless,” an International Joint Undercover Operation

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that MARCEL ACEVEDO SARMIENTO was sentenced today in Manhattan federal court to 12 years in prison for conspiring to import cocaine into the United States. ACEVEDO, whose prosecution was part of “Operation Relentless,” the historic, joint undercover operation undertaken by the United States and the Government of Liberia, pled guilty in April 2012. He was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Jed. S. Rakoff.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “With today’s sentencing of Marcel Acevedo Sarmiento for his role in an international cocaine distribution conspiracy, we continue to bear the fruits of our unprecedented partnership with the Government of Liberia. International cooperation is essential to our efforts to stamp out the drug trade, and there can be no better example of the results that can be achieved when we work together than this case.”

According to the Indictment, documents previously filed in Manhattan federal court, and other information in the public record:

During the last decade, drug trafficking organizations based in South America have increasingly used countries along or near the West African coast as trans-shipment hubs for importing massive quantities of cocaine to be later distributed in Europe or elsewhere within Africa. Through a combination of privately owned aircraft and maritime vessels, these organizations, predominantly based in Colombia and Venezuela, have transported hundreds of tons of cocaine, worth billions of dollars, to West African countries including Liberia.

ACEVEDO, a cocaine supplier based in Colombia and Venezuela, had the capacity to transport thousand-kilogram loads of cocaine from South America to various locations in West Africa, for later distribution within Africa, Europe, and elsewhere. The conspiracy in which he participated involved a 4,000 kilogram shipment of cocaine, with a retail value of over $100 million, which was to be flown from Venezuela to Monrovia, Liberia.

ACEVEDO, 48, a citizen of Colombia, also coordinated efforts to arrange a cocaine shipment of over 2,000 kilograms by aircraft from Venezuela to Liberia, during recorded telephone conversations with a confidential source (“the CS”) working for the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”). ACEVEDO confirmed to the CS that the cocaine shipment had been protected by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, an international terrorist group dedicated to the violent overthrow of the democratically elected Government of Colombia.

On May 29, 2010, ACEVEDO indicated that Venezuelan authorities had seized a plane he owned worth $35 million, as well as the cocaine on board the plane, and had directed him to leave the country. He informed the CS of the seizure and then invited the CS to participate in a new cocaine shipment from Bolivia, understanding that the CS would import the CS’s 500-kilogram share of the shipment into New York.

None of the three cocaine shipments that ACEVEDO conspired to transport to Liberia actually occurred.

*                      *                      *

Mr. Bharara praised the work of the Special Operations Division of the DEA, the DEA Lagos Country Office, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of International Affairs, and the U.S. State Department. He also thanked the U.S. Embassy in Liberia and the Republic of Liberia and its National Security Agency for their efforts.

This prosecution is being handled by the Office's Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Randall Jackson and Jenna M. Dabbs are in charge of the prosecution.

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