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Press Release

Court Sentenced Dominican Drug Smuggler Caught with Approximately 443 Kilograms of Cocaine

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Alabama

On March 14, 2024, United States District Court Judge, Terry F. Moorer, sentenced Joel Vargas Mendez-Bienvivenido, a Dominican national, to 87 months imprisonment for smuggling 443 kilograms of cocaine in the Caribbean Sea. Mendez-Bienvivenido had previously plead guilty to the drug smuggling offense, which is charged under Title 46, United States Code, Section 70506 (b).

Documents filed with the Court established that on September 13, 2023, during a routine patrol in the Caribbean, a Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) located a Go-Fast Vessel (GFV) on a northerly path with a speed of 18 knots and two persons on board.  The vessel was outfitted with one engine and visible suspected drug packages on the deck of the vessel.  

United States Coast Guard Cutter Valiant (USCGC VALIANT) launched it’s Over the Horizon (OTH) boat with a boarding team (BT).  The OTH and BT arrived on scene and gained positive control of the vessel approximately 161 nautical miles South of Isla Beta, Dominican Republic. This location is in international waters. The BT recovered 13 bales of cocaine weighing  approximately 443 kilograms. The government of the Dominican Republic denied any claim to nationality of the GFV, and the vessel was thus subsequently treated as one without nationality,  giving the United States jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute the case under Title 46.  The vessel was deemed a danger to navigation due to no suitable tow points and its distance from land. Consequently, the vessel was sunk upon completion of law enforcement activities.

Title 46 United States Code, § 70501 states: Congress finds and declares that (1) trafficking in controlled substances aboard vessels is a serious international problem, is universally condemned, and presents a specific threat to the security and societal well-being of the United States and (2) operating or embarking in a submersible vessel or semi-submersible vessel without nationality and on an international voyage is a serious international problem, facilitates transnational crime, including drug trafficking, and terrorism, and presents a specific threat to the safety of maritime navigation and the security of the United States. Title 46 further provides that such offenses may be prosecuted in any United States federal district court. 
United States Attorney Sean P. Costello praised the outstanding work of the United States Coast Guard and federal investigators in interdicting and bringing these international drug smugglers to justice. Costello stated that the wholesale value of the cocaine seized in this case is conservatively valued at approximately 13.3 million dollars.  

The case was investigated by the United States Coast Guard, and the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney George F. May

Updated April 19, 2024