Recidivist Maritime Drug Trafficker Sentenced to 200 Months in Prison for Operating a Semi-Submersible with 4,400 pounds of Cocaine
Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole Bredariol (619) 546-8419 and Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Mellor (619) 546-9733
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – October 15, 2021
SAN DIEGO – Jose Rosario Segura Balentierra, a Colombian national interdicted by the United States Coast Guard on a semi-submersible vessel containing approximately 2,000 kilograms (4,4000 pounds) of cocaine, was sentenced on Tuesday in federal court to 200 months in prison for operating a semi-submersible vessel on the high seas twice in less than five years.
Balentierra was interdicted by United States Coast Guard Cutter BERTHOLF on a semi-submersible vessel with his three co-defendants on August 14, 2020, over 500 nautical miles from Central America.
The Defendants on the semi-submersible vessel failed to stop when ordered by the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard first tried warning shots, and then used disabling fire, shooting at the engines of the vessel to try to get the defendants to stop. When even this failed, one of the Coast Guard boarding officers jumped onto the moving vessel, took control of the engines, and removed the fuel lines to finally stop the vessel.
The Coast Guard observed two to three feet of water in the bottom of the semi-submersible vessel, indicating the defendants attempted to scuttle or sink the vessel to evade capture and seizure of its cargo. The semi-submersible vessel itself was stuffed with packages of cocaine, totaling over 2,000 kilograms (4,400 pounds) and worth over $35 million.
Balentierra was previously convicted in 2016 in the Southern District of Florida for Conspiracy to Operate and Embark on a Semi-Submersible Vessel Without Nationality with Intent to Evade Detection, and Operating and Embarking on a Semi-Submersible Vessel Without Nationality with Intent to Evade Detection. Similarly, in that case he was interdicted by the U.S. Coast Guard on a semi-submersible vessel approximately 300 nautical miles from Mexico. That semi-submersible vessel rapidly sunk to the bottom of the ocean floor and no drugs were recovered. He was sentenced to 41 months in custody and three years of supervised release. After serving his sentence he was deported to his home country of Colombia. In 2020, just over eighteen months after returning to Colombia, he engaged in this almost identical offense.
On July 14, 2021, Balentierra pleaded guilty to Possession of Cocaine with Intent to Distribute on Board a Vessel in violation of 46 U.S.C. § 70503 and Operation of a Semi-Submersible Vessel without Nationality in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2285. On Tuesday he was sentenced to 182 months in custody and five years of supervised release on each of the charges, to run concurrently. He was also sentenced to 18 months in custody, to run consecutively, for violating the terms of his 2016 supervised release by engaging in trafficking cocaine. He was sentenced to a total custodial term of 200 months.
“The Pacific Ocean is not a freeway for drug traffickers,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “The sentence issued in this case sends a clear message that repeated maritime drug smuggling will not be tolerated in the Southern District of California.” Grossman thanked prosecutors Nicole Bredariol and Josh Mellor and the U.S. Coast Guard and San Diego Strike Force for their excellent work on this case.
“Due to the dedicated actions of the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf’s commanding officer and crew, these smugglers have been brought to justice,” said Rear Adm. Brian Penoyer, the Eleventh Coast Guard District commander. “The Coast Guard kept $35 million worth of drugs off our streets, and we will continue to patrol the maritime domain to fight against the trafficking of narcotics.”
This case is the result of the ongoing efforts by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a partnership that brings together the combined expertise and unique abilities of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, dismantle and prosecute high-level members of drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and money laundering organizations and enterprises.
DEFENDANT Case Number 20cr2671-LAB
Jose Rosario Segura Balentierra Age: 35 Colombia
SUMMARY OF CHARGES
Possession with Intent to Distribute Cocaine Onboard a Vessel Subject to the Jurisdiction of the United States – Title 46, U.S.C., Section 70503
Maximum Penalty: Life in prison and $10 million fine
Operation of a Semi-Submersible Vessel without Nationality, with Intent to Evade Detection –
Title 18, U.S.C., Section 2285
Maximum Penalty: Fifteen years in prison and $250,000 fine
United States Coast Guard
San Diego Strike Force
Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Taskforce (OCDETF)