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Member of drug smuggling organization sentenced

Tampa, FL – The final member of a maritime cocaine smuggling organization was sentenced to more than 11 years imprisonment Friday following an investigation by the Panama Express Strike Force South, which includes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Elias Estupinan Rengifo, 48, from Colombia, conspired with three co-conspirators to possess with intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine on board vessels subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Rengifo pleaded guilty on Oct.12.

According to court documents, Rengifo and his co-conspirators knowingly and willingly participated in an ongoing maritime cocaine smuggling organization operating along Colombia's southern coast. Between 2005 and 2009, Rengifo and his co-conspirators organized multiple maritime cocaine smuggling trips. The United States intercepted stateless go-fast vessels in the Pacific Ocean on Feb.19, 2005, and Dec. 2, 2006, and stateless self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS) vessels in the Pacific Ocean on Mar. 1, 2008, and Jun. 16, 2008. Coast Guard officers seized more than 1,000 kilograms of cocaine from both of the interdicted go-fast vessels. The SPSS vessels were also carrying cocaine, but were scuttled before Coast Guard officers could recover any drugs. The mariners on the four interdicted vessels were first brought into the United States in the Middle District of Florida.

Rengifo's three co-conspirators – Horacio Aguirre Perea, 42, Vicente Aguirre Perea, 45 and Wilson Vallejo, 41, are all from Colombia and were arrested there, extradited to the United States and subsequently pleaded guilty to the same drug conspiracy charge.

Horacio Aguirre Perea was arrested in Colombia on Aug.5, 2009 and pleaded guilty on Oct. 27, 2010. On Jan. 28, 2011, he was sentenced to almost 20 years in federal prison.

Vicente Aguirre Perea was arrested in Colombia on Aug. 6, 2009 and pleaded guilty on Jan. 26, 2011. On Apr. 13, he was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.

Wilson Vallejo was arrested in Colombia on Mar. 16, 2010, and pleaded guilty on Mar. 29. He was sentenced on Jun. 17 to more than 11 years in federal prison.

The Panama Express Strike Force South is part of the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) and includes agents and analysts from HSI, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the United States Coast Guard Investigative Service, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Joint Interagency Task Force South.