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Press Release

Three Foreign Nationals Sentenced for Drug Smuggling on the High Seas

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

HOUSTON – The final defendant in a maritime smuggling venture involving nearly 1300 kilograms of cocaine has been ordered to federal prison, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.

Jose Luis Landazuri Valdes, 25-year-old Colombian national pleaded guilty in November 2018. Co-defendants Herman Julio Cuenu Valencia, a 34-year-old Columbian national and Ecuadoran national Ricardo Alberto Parraga Mendoza, 32, entered their pleas in December and November 2018, respectively.  

Today, U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. handed Valdes a 63-month sentence. At the hearing, the court noted Landazuri Valdes and Cuenu Valencia were crewmen on the boat under the leadership of the boat captain, Parraga Mendoza. In handing down the sentence, Judge Werlein mentioned the unique character of this case involving international maritime interdiction of large quantities of cocaine, often destined for distribution in the United States.

Cuenu Valencia and Parraga Mendoza were previously sentenced to 70 and 120 months, respectively.

Not U.S. citizens, all are expected to face deportation proceedings following their sentences.

On July 3, 2018, while on routine patrol off the Pacific Coast of Colombia and Ecuador, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Cutter Mohawk detected a 47-foot low profile go-fast boat 300 nautical miles northeast of the Galapagos Islands. USCG launched its small boat which approached and stopped the vessel. Officers boarded the boat and discovered three crewmen on board. 

The vessel had no flag, no registration documents, no homeport name and no indicia of identification on the hull of the vessel. Parraga Mendoza identified himself as the captain of the boat.

Officers discovered 38 bales of cocaine weighing approximately 1,280 kilograms in the hold of the boat and five sophisticated satellite communication and global positioning devices.

The three crewmen were taken into custody and transported to Florida.

They were charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine on a vessel in the high seas in violation of the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act and the Drug Trafficking Vessel Interdiction Act of 2008. This was the first such prosecution in the Southern District of Texas following a change in the law allowing any jurisdiction in the United States to prosecute such smugglers. The law gives the United States jurisdiction over vessels without nationality found on the high seas with contraband as Congress found that “trafficking in controlled substances aboard vessels is a serious international problem and is universally condemned… Such trafficking presents a specific threat to the security and societal well-being of the United States.”

All have remained in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

The Drug Enforcement Administration and USCG conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Gallagher is prosecuting the case.  

Updated June 20, 2019

Drug Trafficking