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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Middle District of Florida

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Four Individuals Indicted For Drug Trafficking On The High Seas

Tampa, Florida - U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley, III announced today that a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Linberto Gallardo-Gonzalez (42); Uriel Julio Tapia (35); Miguel Vasquez-Barrios (37), all of Colombia, South America; and Miguel Angel Sori-Ortiz (41, Dominican Republic), with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States; and aiding and abetting each other and other persons to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Each faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years, up to a maximum penalty of life in federal prison for each count.     

On January 22, 2014, Gallardo-Gonzalez, Tapia, Vasquez-Barrios, and  Sori-Ortiz were detained during the interdiction of a go-fast boat traveling at a high rate of speed and carrying 2,500 pounds of cocaine, worth an estimated $37 million wholesale value.  The cocaine was seized in a historic multi-national counterdrug operation south of the Dominican Republic. This interdiction marks the first time a U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Law Enforcement Detachment Team (LEDET) and helicopter embarked on board a foreign flagged military vessel in support of counterdrug operations.  The USCG LEDET team and helicopter were operating aboard the British Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Wave Knight.  The Coast Guard helicopter launched from the RFA Wave Knight when the 25-foot go-fast boat was detected with four individuals and suspicious packages on board, traveling at a high rate of speed.  The helicopter crew arrived on scene and attempted to signal the go-fast boat in an effort to stop it.  Ultimately, the crew resorted to firing disabling shots to stop the vessel’s engine. During the pursuit, the four individuals on board were observed jettisoning multiple packages overboard.  After the vessel was stopped, a USCG LEDET team arrived at the scene and detained the four individuals aboard the boat and retrieved 45 bales of cocaine from the debris field, where the packages had been thrown overboard.

The four crewman detained on the go-fast vessel were brought to Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division for prosecution.  They appeared before a United States Magistrate Judge to be advised of the charges against them and for a bond hearing.  They were detained pending the resolution of the case.        
An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of the federal criminal laws, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty. 

This case was investigated by OCDETF's Panama Express Strike Force, comprised of agents and analysts from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, United States Coast Guard Investigative Service, and Joint Interagency Task Force South.  It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez.

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.

Updated January 26, 2015