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Press Release

International Drug Trafficker Sentenced To 14 Years In Prison For Importing Cocaine Into The United States

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

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that JOEL BRANFORD, a/k/a “Joel Bransord,” a/k/a “Jose Cabeza,” was sentenced on August 27, 2018, by U.S. District Judge Gregory H. Woods to 168 months in prison for conspiring to import cocaine into the United States.  BRANFORD pled guilty before Judge Woods on June 22, 2017.

According to the Indictment filed in Manhattan federal court, previous court filings, and statements made at public court proceedings:

In January 2010, BRANFORD, who had previously fled the United States to Panama, conspired to import more than 100 kilograms of cocaine via a container ship to be sent to the Port of New York-New Jersey.  In January 2010, law enforcement officers intercepted the container and found inside more than approximately 100 kilograms of cocaine.  On January 29, 2010, law enforcement authorities intercepted, pursuant to a Court-authorized wiretap, a telephone conversation during which BRANFORD threatened a co-conspirator, whom BRANFORD believed had stolen the shipment that was seized by law enforcement.  Throughout 2010, Panamanian law enforcement intercepted calls by BRANFORD, during which BRANFORD regularly discussed making large shipments of narcotics in containers. 

BRANFORD also used weapons in the course of his narcotics trafficking business.  In July 2010, Panamanian law enforcement searched BRANFORD’s residence and vehicle and found two firearms, four magazines, and 223 bullets, along with 21 cellphones.  Previously, in 2003, law enforcement officers searched BRANFORD’s home in Virginia, where he lived at the time, and recovered two firearms, including a semi-automatic submachine gun, and two bullet-proof vests, as well as cocaine.

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In addition to his prison sentence, BRANFORD, 46, was sentenced to five years of supervised release. 

Mr. Berman praised the investigative work of the Drug Enforcement Administration, including the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program and the Special Operations Division, as well as the Department of Homeland Security – Homeland Security Investigations, and thanked the Customs and Border Protection, the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey, and the Waterfront Commission of New York/New Jersey for their assistance in this investigation.  Mr. Berman also thanked DEA’s Panama City, San Jose (Costa Rica), and Belgium Country Offices, the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs, and the Panamanian National Police for their cooperation and assistance.

This matter is being handled by the Office’s Narcotics Unit.  Assistant United States Attorneys David Abramowicz, Amanda Houle, and Matthew Podolsky are in charge of the prosecution.


Updated August 29, 2018

Press Release Number: 18-297