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Colombian maritime narcotics trafficker sentenced to 25 years in federal prison

TAMPA, Fla. – A Colombian maritime narcotics trafficker was sentenced Wednesday to 25 years in federal prison for possession with intent to distribute cocaine while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, and conspiracy to do the same, in violation of the U.S. Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act. The sentencing comes after an investigation by the Panama Express North Strike Force, involving members of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the U.S. Southern Command's Joint Interagency Task Force South, the FBI and the United States Coast Guard (USCG).

Arley Fernando Garces, 34, of Colombia, pleaded guilty on April 14. Garces is the last of three co-defendants to be sentenced in this case. U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew also previously sentenced Santos Cerros-Maldonado to 12 years and four months in prison. Gregorio Campo-Rodriguez was sentenced to seven years and three months in federal prison.

“The sentencing of these individuals demonstrates the value of multi-agency collaboration,” said Susan L. McCormick, special agent in charge for HSI Tampa. “This teamwork is essential to ensure the security of our region and nation.”

According to court documents and testimony, on August 19, 2013, the USCG interdicted Garces, Campo-Rodriguez and Cerros-Maldonado onboard a stateless vessel in the Caribbean Sea. During the interdiction, individuals onboard that vessel jettisoned electronics, personal identifying information, and one kilogram of cocaine. Investigators later determined that Garces and his co-conspirators were smuggling hundreds of kilograms of cocaine in a false bottom of the vessel.

The Panama Express North Strike Force, is a standing Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) with a mission to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply.

The case was prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Meyer and Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa-Lopez.