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Press Release

Colombian National Sentenced To More Than 15 Years In Prison For Trafficking Over $55 Million Of Cocaine On The High Seas

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Florida

Tampa, Florida – U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday sentenced Jhon Zambrano Caicedo (37, Colombia) to 15 years and 8 months in federal prison for conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine on a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. He entered a guilty plea in March 2024.

According to the plea agreement, a maritime patrol aircraft spotted a panga-style “go-fast vessel” (GFV) in the Pacific Ocean, about 60 miles north of the nearest point of land in Ecuador. The vessel was suspected of drug smuggling because it had several fuel barrels, no registration numbers on the hull, was flying no flag, was operating at a high rate of speed, and was sailing in a location where maritime drug smuggling by similar vessels is common. A U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) helicopter and a USCG law enforcement team were deployed from USCG Cutter James to intercept the suspicious vessel. 

The helicopter signaled the GFV to stop, but the vessel and its crew were non-compliant until the firing of warning shots. The boarding team found Zambrano Caicedo and two others onboard. A search of the vessel revealed over 3,100 kilograms of cocaine, worth more than $55 million.

Zambrano Caicedo had previously been convicted in the Southern District of Florida for trafficking approximately 750 kilograms of cocaine via a go-fast vessel on the high seas in February 2016.

This case was investigated by the United States Coast Guard and the Panama Express Strike Force, a standing Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Strike Force comprised of agents and analysts from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and the U.S. Southern Command's Joint Interagency Task Force South. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at

The case was prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Ashley Haynes.

Updated July 2, 2024

Drug Trafficking