TAMPA, Fla. - David Hodwalker-Martinez, 41, of Barranquilla, Colombia, pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, following an investigation by the Panama Express Strike Force North (PANEX).
PANEX is a federally approved Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) consisting of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, Internal Revenue Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Operation Panama Express North currently targets Colombian maritime smuggling organizations responsible for cocaine trafficking throughout the Caribbean to the United States and elsewhere for distribution.
Hodwalker-Martinez faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison and a maximum penalty of life.
According to the plea agreement, an investigation revealed that Hodwalker-Martinez, aka "Tilo," owned Club de Pesca Veranillo, a marina located in Barranquilla, and that he sold and outfitted "go fast" vessels to and for Colombian cocaine traffickers to facilitate the exportation of cocaine from Colombia for distribution into the United States.
As payment for the speedboats, Hodwalker-Martinez knowingly accepted proceeds from the trafficking of the cocaine and would disguise the true ownership of the purchased speedboats through fraudulent bills of sale using fictitious names or nominees.
Eliseo Bello-Avendaño, aka "Cheo," a co-defendant who pleaded guilty to the same charges in August, assisted Hodwalker-Martinez and the cocaine traffickers beginning in 2002 by launching speed boats for the cocaine traffickers after their purchase of those boats from Hodwalker-Martinez.
Bello-Avendaño was paid to participate and assist the cocaine traffickers by allowing the use of his business locale in Barranquilla for preparing and launching the vessels, and by providing fuel for the boats and food for the crews related to the cocaine ventures.
From 1998 to 2006, Hodwalker-Martinez sold more than 300 "Eduardono" brand speedboats to Colombian cocaine traffickers. On Feb. 4, 2004, the U.S. Coast Guard interdicted one of these "go-fast" vessels in international waters in the Caribbean Sea.
The four Colombian national crew members on the boat were detained and 1770 kilograms of cocaine, destined for the United States, was seized.