Seven Foreign Nationals Charged in Maritime Drug Trafficking Interdictions
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Virginia
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – Seven foreign nationals who were detained by the U.S. Coast Guard in international waters have been charged for their respective roles in attempting to smuggle hundreds of kilograms of cocaine and marijuana into the United States.
Since November 2018, members of the DEA Hampton Post of Duty, in partnership with DEA Bogota, Homeland Security Investigations Norfolk, and the Hampton Police Division, have been investigating maritime smuggling operations based on the Pacific coast of Colombia.
According to court documents, in May 2020, members of the investigative team learned of an operation to transport over 400 kilograms of cocaine from the area of Punta Aji on the west coast of Colombia to an awaiting vessel being dispatched from Central America.
On May 16, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Cutter Confidence detected a Go-Fast Vessel (GFV) with no indicia of nationality 123 nautical miles southeast of Punta Naranjo, Panama, in international waters. As USCG personnel approached the GFV, the crew of the GFV began to jettison fuel barrels and packages into the ocean.
After gaining positive control of the GFV, a USCG boarding team encountered Colombian nationals Dalmiro Camacho, 55, Marcos R. Salas, 28, and Yivio C. Valencia, 33, and subsequently recovered 14 bales containing approximately 494 kilograms of cocaine from the ocean.
In a separate case, according to court documents, in May 2020, members of the investigative team learned of a GFV that was planning to transport nearly 1,500 kilograms of marijuana from the area of Punta Aji to an awaiting vessel being dispatched from Central America. On May 19, USCG Cutter James detected a GFV with no indicia of nationality located in the area of 83 nautical miles southwest of El Cacao, Panama, in international waters.
After gaining positive control of the GFV, a USCG boarding team encountered Costa Rican nationals Junior Smith-Meria, 28, Juan Emiliano Sanchez-Cascante, 30, Julio Cesar-Flores, 22, and Manfred Deihann Hidalgo-Ching, 28, and subsequently seized approximately 88 bales containing approximately 1,500 kilograms of marijuana.
The defendants are charged with the manufacture, distribution, or possession of a controlled substance on a vessel. If convicted, each defendant faces 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.
The case was investigated as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF), Operation Fuhz. The OCDETF program is a federal multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional task force that supplies supplemental federal funding to federal and state agencies involved in the identification, investigation, and prosecution of major drug trafficking organizations. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and money laundering organizations, and those primarily responsible for the nation’s illegal drug supply.
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.; and Terry L. Sult, Chief of Hampton Police Division, made the announcement. Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric M. Hurt is prosecuting the cases.
Investigative participation and assistance was provided by Newport News Sheriff’s Office, York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office, Newport News Police Department, and the Virginia State Police.
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 Nos. 4:20-mj-52 to 58.
Director of Public Affairs
Updated June 9, 2020