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Justice News

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, January 13, 2017

Ukrainians Sentenced To 25 Years In Federal Prison For Smuggling $10 Million Of Cocaine On “Ghost Ship”

Tampa, Florida – U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew today sentenced Igor Polshyn (42, Yalta, Ukraine) and Oleskii Tsurkan (52, Moscow, Russia) each to 25 years in federal prison for conspiring to possess and possessing with the intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine on a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. A federal jury found them guilty on September 30, 2016.

According to testimony and evidence presented at trial, on November 7, 2015, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection P-3 Orion aircraft 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 was its sole crew member.

The Coast Guard eventually boarded the sailboat and, during an initial safety sweep, found over 100 kilograms of cocaine over a bilge access. The Coast Guard ultimately recovered an additional 270 kilograms of cocaine, for a total of 370 kilograms (814 lbs.) of cocaine, including cocaine commingled with the food supplies of the crew. Officials from DEA-Madrid and the Coast Guard Investigative Service traced the vessel registration number back to a sailboat near Barcelona, Spain. The sailboat interdicted by the Coast Guard was a “ghost ship,” using the stolen identity of the 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 Panama Express Strike Force, an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) comprised of agents and analysts from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the United States Coast Guard Investigative Service, 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. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Thomas N. Palermo.

Topic(s): 
Drug Trafficking
Component(s): 
Updated January 13, 2017