Colombian National Sentenced To Over Eleven Years For Trafficking Narcotics On The High Seas And Endangering The Lives Of U.S. Coast Guard Members
Tampa, FL – U.S. District Judge Charlene E. Honeywell has sentenced Billy Rengifo Saaverda (44, Medellin, Colombia) to 11 years and 3 months in federal prison for conspiring to possess with intent to distribute 464 kilograms of cocaine and 217 kilograms of marijuana – approximately 1,500 pounds of narcotics. Saaverda had pleaded guilty on June 6, 2022.
According to court documents and information offered in open court, on February 21, 2022, in the middle of the night, Saaverda and his two co-conspirators were trafficking narcotics on the high seas in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, approximately 70 miles south of Panama. The United States Coast Guard (USCG) Cutter Legare was patrolling in the vicinity and deployed its helicopter and 26-foot small boat to interdict the suspected drug traffickers. When the Legare’s small boat team approached Saaverda’s 30-foot boat, a high-speed pursuit commenced in rough waters with both vessels travelling at speeds over 30 knots. Saaverda was behind the helm of the drug-running vessel, leading the chase. Given it was the middle of the night in the Pacific Ocean, the only lighting in the immediate area was the USCG vessel’s blue, flashing law enforcement lights, yellow spotlights, and mast light. The defendants failed to heed the USCG’s repeated verbal directives to halt. Warning shots were fired from both the USCG’s helicopter and its small boat; this did not deter the drug traffickers. Rather than stop, for over 20 minutes Saaverda continuously attempted to ram his vessel into the USCG’s small boat, seriously endangering the lives and safety of the five United States servicemembers on board.
Undeterred, and after an hours-long pursuit, the USCG successfully interdicted the defendant’s vessel, which was laden with over $14,000,000 of cocaine and marijuana.
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 www.justice.gov/OCDETF.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney David Pardo.