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Press Release

Federal Jury Convicts Colombian Female Of International Cocaine Smuggling Conspiracy

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

Tampa, Florida – A federal jury has found Lelia Vanessa Perdomo Zapata (26, Colombia) guilty of conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute at least five kilograms of cocaine while onboard a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, as well as one count of possession with the intent to distribute at least five kilograms of cocaine on that vessel. She faces up to 10 years in federal prison on each count. Her sentencing hearing is scheduled for December 5, 2019.

According to evidence presented at trial, Perdomo Zapata was part of an international maritime drug smuggling operation involving at least 440 kilograms of cocaine worth approximately $13 million. Perdomo Zapata was the Colombian load guard for a Cartagena, Colombia-based cocaine smuggling crew. Prior to their interdiction by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), Perdomo Zapata and one of her co-conspirators were transporting 18 bales of cocaine onboard a 60-foot sailing vessel from Cartagena, Colombia to Cancun, Mexico. Ultimately, USCG law enforcement officers from Tactical Law Enforcement Team (TACLET) Pacific boarded the sailing vessel and discovered the 18 bales of cocaine and multiple electronic devices consistent with cocaine trafficking. Subsequent analysis of these devices yielded crucial digital evidence of the cocaine smuggling operation.  

This case was investigated by the Panama Express Strike Force, an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) comprised of agents and analysts from the United States Coast Guard Investigative Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and U.S. Southern Command's Joint Interagency Task Force South. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Diego F. Novaes and Special Assistant United States Attorney Nicholas DeRenzo.

Updated September 3, 2019

Drug Trafficking