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June 6, 2011Savannah, GA, United StatesNarcotics

Man sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for smuggling cocaine, heroin

SAVANNAH, Ga. - Angel Gomez, 46, a native of the Dominican Republic, was sentenced Monday to 20 years in prison for his role in smuggling cocaine and heroin through the Port of Savannah.

The case was the result of a joint investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Georgia Ports Authority Police Department. Each of these agencies is a member of the Maritime Interagency Center of Operations (MICO), created in 2007 to prevent and deter criminal activity and acts of terrorism in the Georgia Ports of Savannah and Brunswick.

"Today's sentencing is an example of the collaborative investigative results that will be seen from the newly formed Southeast Coastal Border Enforcement Security Taskforce (SEC BEST)," said Brock Nicholson, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Atlanta. "Working in conjunction with our SEC BEST partners, we are aggressively and effectively disrupting and dismantling the criminal networks that attempt to use our seaports to circumvent detection and threaten our national security. Together, we are working effectively to stop the flow of drugs, weapons, people and other contraband through the Port of Savannah."

Gomez and co-conspirator Jose Orlando Garcia Duran were convicted after a two-day jury trial on several charges relating to the smuggling of $500,000 worth of heroin and cocaine through the Port of Savannah. The evidence at trial showed that in March of 2010, Georgia Ports Authority Police became aware that three men, disguised as longshoremen who had disembarked the M/V Cosco Boston, a Chinese merchant vessel arriving from Panama, had boarded a taxi to take them to the gate of the Garden City Terminal. When the taxi driver advised the men to have their identification ready, they jumped out of the taxi and ran into a wooded area.

The three men, including Gomez and Garcia Duran, were eventually apprehended in the woods, where approximately 4 kilograms of cocaine and 2 kilograms of heroin were also found. At the time of arrest, Gomez confessed that he had been involved in bringing the drugs into the United States.

A third individual, Rodrigo Temple Wood, testified against Gomez and Garcia Duran at trial, explaining that the three men brought the drugs from Panama, each carrying two kilograms inside the back support belts they wore as part of their disguises. They were to meet the recipient of the drugs in Savannah.

Gomez is the last to be sentenced of the three men who were indicted together for the smuggling conspiracy. Wood pleaded guilty to the importation of controlled substances and was sentenced on Aug. 30, 2010, to 76 months in prison. Garcia Duran was sentenced on May 11, 2011 to a combined 286 month sentence for the offenses in this case, together with additional time to be served for violating the District of New Jersey's order that he not reenter the United States after his 2008 conviction there for a previous illegal reentry after deportation. Both Garcia Duran and Gomez have previous drug trafficking convictions and were previously deported from the United States. All three defendants will face deportation after completion of their prison terms.

U.S. Attorney Edward J. Tarver stated, "Drug traffickers and other members of the criminal element will not use the Port of Savannah as a gateway to commit crimes within the United States of America. Attempts to do so will result in the prosecution and incarceration of the offenders. The safety and security of our nation's seaports continues to be a priority in the Southern District of Georgia."

In response to the dramatic surge in cross-border crime and violence due to intense competition between Mexican drug cartels and transnational criminal smuggling organizations, ICE has partnered with federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement counterparts to create the Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST). BEST is a series of multi-agency teams developed to identify, disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations posing significant threats to border security. Currently, there are 21 BESTs with locations around the U.S and in Mexico, including the newly formed SEC BEST, which covers the ports of Savannah, Charleston, and Wilmington and reports to the ICE special agent in charge in Atlanta.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Heaps Ippolito prosecuted this case.