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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Record Maritime Cocaine and Heroin Seizures in FY 2017 Include San Diego-Based Case

Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Ari Fitzwater (619) 546-8756, Assistant U. S. Attorney Joshua Jones (619) 546-9744, Assistant U. S. Attorney Connie Wu (619) 546-8592

 

NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – September 20, 2017

 

SAN DIEGO – The U.S. Coast Guard’s announcement today that it has intercepted a record amount of illicit drugs in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in FY2017 includes a San Diego-based prosecution involving more than 6,000 pounds of cocaine confiscated from a low-profile vessel.

 

The U.S. Coast Guard encountered the vessel in international waters, approximately 450 nautical miles southwest of the Guatemala/El Salvador border on August 14 and detained four individuals following discovery of the cocaine. Low-profile vessels are designed to ride low in the water to avoid detection.

 

A federal grand jury returned an indictment in the Southern District of California on September 1, charging four men with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute onboard a vessel. According to the indictment, approximately 6,349.20 pounds of cocaine (totaling over three tons) was confiscated from the vessel. The defendants remain in custody pending trial.  The defendants will appear for a motion hearing and trial setting before U.S. District Judge John A. Houston on October 16.

 

At today’s event attended by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the 140-person crew of the Coastguard Cutter Stratton offloaded 50,000 pounds of cocaine and heroin - with an estimated street value of more than $679 million – that was seized in the Eastern Pacific Ocean since August 2.

 

“By preventing overdoses and stopping new addictions before they start, enforcing our drug laws saves lives,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “This record-breaking year by our Coast Guard saw the arrest of more than 500 suspected drug traffickers and kept nearly half a million pounds of dangerous drugs from getting to our streets--and ultimately to our neighbors, friends, and families. I commend every service member who has helped us in our mission to keep the American people safe, and I thank them for this indispensable contribution to public safety.”

 

“The seizure of this cocaine means tens of thousands of pounds won’t make it to our communities and hundreds of millions of dollars won’t make it into cartel coffers,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Alana Robinson. “To drug traffickers who may think they are invisible in the middle of what seems to be a vast, empty ocean: You are not alone. We are doing everything we can to prevent you from using the high seas as your personal freeway.”

 

The Coast Guard has interdicted several low-profile vessels since June. Low-profile vessels are specifically designed for smuggling illicit cargo such as drugs, weapons and cash. These smuggling vessels have multiple outboard motors to allow them to travel at high speeds and are painted to blend with the water to avoid detection from military and law enforcement authorities operating in the region.

 

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.

 

DEFENDANTS                                                        Case Number 17cr2603                                           

Edinson Elias Castillo-Bustos                                    Age: 56                                   Colombia

Redis Mina-Canga                                                      Age: 50                                   Colombia

Edgar Anibal Rojas-Vanegas                                      Age: 31                                   Guatemala

Jose Sebastian Ardila-Meza                                        Age: 48                                   Colombia

 

SUMMARY OF CHARGES

 

Conspiracy to Distribute Cocaine on Board a Vessel  – Title 46, U.S.C., Sections 70503 and 70506(b)

Maximum penalty: Life in prison and $10,000,000 fine

 

Possession of Cocaine with Intent to Distribute on Board a Vessel – Title 46, U.S.C., Section 70503

Maximum penalty: Life in prison and $10,000,000 fine

 

AGENCY

 

Drug Enforcement Administration

United States Coast Guard

 

*The charges and allegations contained in an indictment or complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.

 

Topic(s): 
Drug Trafficking
Press Release Number: 
CAS17-0920-Castillo
Updated September 20, 2017