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Justice News

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

Monday, October 3, 2016

Ukrainian Sail Boaters Convicted Of Smuggling $10 Million Worth Of Cocaine On “Ghost Ship”

Tampa, Florida – United States Attorney A. Lee Bentley, III announces that a federal jury has found Igor Polshyn and Oleskii Tsurkan guilty of conspiring to possess and possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine on a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Each faces a maximum penalty of life in federal prison. Their sentencing hearings are scheduled for January 10, 2017.

According to evidence presented at trial, on November 7, 2015, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection P-3 Orion detected a sailboat 56 miles south of the Dominican Republic, traveling at night on the high seas with no lights, and on a course to travel through the Mona Passage between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. The Orion crew alerted the United States Coast Guard, which dispatched the USCG Cutter Bernard C. Webber to interdict the vessel. The Webber interdicted the sailboat 26 miles south of the Dominican Republic, still on a course to take it through the Mona Passage. The sailboat flew the Spanish flag and bore a Spanish registration number on the stern. Polshyn was the master of the vessel and Tsurkan its sole crew member.

The Coast Guard eventually boarded the sailboat and, during an initial safety sweep, found over 100 kilograms of cocaine over the forward most bilge access. Subsequent searching recovered an additional 270 kilograms of cocaine, for a total of 370 kilograms of cocaine (814 lbs.), including cocaine commingled with the food supplies of the sailboat crew. Officials from DEA-Madrid and the Coast Guard Investigative Service traced the vessel registration number back to a real sailboat near Barcelona, Spain. The sailboat interdicted by the Coast Guard was a “ghost ship,” using the stolen identity of a real vessel in Barcelona, to mask its true identity. The recovered cocaine had an approximate wholesale value of $10 million.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Coast Guard Investigative Service, and the United States Coast Guard. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Thomas N. Palermo and Walter E. Furr.

Drug Trafficking
Updated October 3, 2016