Federal Jury Convicts Man of Smuggling nearly Two Tons of Marijuana from Ensenada to Santa Barbara County on Panga Boat
LOS ANGELES – A resident of Tecate, Mexico has been found guilty of federal drug trafficking charges for piloting a “panga” boat stuffed with nearly two tons of marijuana from Ensenada to the United States.
Following a three-day trial, the man, 24-year-old Jose Guadalupe Zepeda-Ramirez, was found guilty on June 2 of two felony counts – conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute marijuana and possession with the intent to distribute marijuana.
Zepeda and another man – Miguel Rodriguez-Doranme, 39, of La Paz, Mexico – were found on March 27 near a panga that had landed on a private beach near Hollister Ranch, which is just west of Gaviota. A panga is an open-bowed fishing vessel that is often used by smugglers bringing marijuana north from Mexico.
According to the evidence presented at Zepeda’s trial, the two men brought the marijuana from Ensenada during a six-day journey. The men had planned to meet a second crew that would off-load the marijuana for further distribution.
The plan was thwarted when Zepeda and Rodriquez were spotted while landing on Alegria Beach. They were detained by a Hollister Ranch security guard until law enforcement arrived.
The investigation revealed that the panga was carrying 1,656 kilograms – or more than 3,650 pounds – or marijuana.
United States District Judge Manuel Real, who presided over Zepeda’s trial, is scheduled to sentence the defendant on September 19. As a result of his conviction on the two charges, Zepeda faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison, and he could be sentenced to a maximum term of life.
Rodriguez, who previously pleaded guilty to the conspiracy count, is scheduled to be sentenced on August 1, at which time he will face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
“Law enforcement is working hard at curtailing the smuggling of drugs on panga boats,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “We will continue to enforcement efforts by prosecuting those who engage in this dangerous method of smuggling.”
The investigation was conducted by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, the United States Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection - Border Patrol, the California Highway Patrol and the California National Guard.
“This case and the subsequent conviction are a direct result of the ongoing collaborative efforts by HSI, together with its federal and local partners, to detect and deter maritime smuggling,” said Edward Owens, deputy special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. “Maritime smuggling poses both a security and a public safety concern and we’re continuing to use all of the resources and tools at our disposal to address this threat.”