Colombian Nationals Indicted for Transporting 1,000 Kilos of Cocaine
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Virginia
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – A federal grand jury returned an indictment today charging two Colombian nationals for their role in transporting nearly 1,000 kilograms of cocaine aboard a semi-submersible vessel that was seized last month by the U.S. Coast Guard off the coast of Ecuador.
According to court documents, since November 2018, members of the DEA Hampton Post of Duty have been investigating maritime smuggling operations based on the Pacific coast of Colombia. Drug trafficking organizations utilize vessels such as Low-Profile Vessels (LPV), or Self-Propelled Semi-Submersibles (SPSS), to transport multi-hundred kilogram shipments of cocaine from the west coast of Colombia to awaiting transfer vessels or destinations throughout Central or South America.
According to court documents, in late December 2019, law enforcement learned of an LPV that was scheduled to transport nearly 1,000 kilograms of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico. Members of the investigative team coordinated with various United States maritime patrol assets and, on January 9, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Cutter Vigilant detected an LPV with no indicia of nationality or vessel name 68 miles west from Esmeraldas, Ecuador in international waters.
After gaining positive control of the LPV, a USCG boarding team allegedly encountered Luis Miguel Gonzalez Cortes, 27, and Reinel Galvis Sanchez, 42, along with multiple other individuals, and subsequently seized approximately 50 bales containing approximately 990 kilograms of cocaine. All four mariners found aboard the LPV were detained, with Cortes and Sanchez being transferred to the Eastern District of Virginia for prosecution and the two Ecuadorian mariners being repatriated to Ecuador.
This seizure is part of Operation FUHZ, a DEA Hampton led investigation into maritime smuggling operations based on the Pacific coast of Colombia. The operation targets various drug trafficking organizations that utilize vessels such as LPVs or SPSSs to transport multi-hundred kilogram shipments of cocaine from the west coast of Colombia, to destinations throughout Central or South America, as well as to awaiting transfer vessels for ultimate distribution in the United States. To date, Operation FUHZ has generated intelligence leading to multiple at sea interdictions resulting in the seizure of over 5,300 kilograms of cocaine. Operation FUHZ is coordinated in close cooperation with the DEA Bogota Country Office Group 1, the Colombian National Police DIRAN Sensitive Investigation Unit, the Hampton Police Division, Homeland Security Investigations, the Newport News Police Department, the Virginia State Police, the York County Sheriff’s Office, and the Newport News Sheriff’s Office.
Both men are charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine on board a vessel. If convicted, each man faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years, and a maximum penalty of life in prison. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Jesse R. Fong, Special Agent in Charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Washington Field Division; Raymond Villanueva, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Washington, D.C.; Steve R. Drew, Chief of Newport News Police; Terry L. Sult, Chief of Hampton Police Division; Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent; Danny Diggs, York County Sheriff; Gabe Morgan Sr., Newport News Sheriff, made the announcement after the indictment was returned. Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric M. Hurt is prosecuting the case.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 4:20-cr-4.
Director of Public Affairs
Updated February 18, 2020