TAMPA, Fla. — A federal jury found a Colombian man guilty Wednesday of three drug conspiracy charges. He faces a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years in federal prison and a maximum penalty of life in prison for two of the conspiracy charges and a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison for the third charge. This case was investigated by the Panama Express South Strike Force, which consists of officers and analysts from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service and the U.S. Southern Command's Joint Interagency Task Force South.
According to testimony and evidence presented at trial, Laureano Angulo Riascos, 54, of Colombia, was second-in-command of the Morfi drug trafficking organization. Starting in 2000, he worked with others to smuggle hundreds of kilograms of cocaine from Colombia to Panama, using speed boats or go-fast vessels. By 2002, Riascos and others began making shipments containing thousands of kilograms of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico. The cocaine was ultimately destined for the United States.
The Morfi drug trafficking organization pioneered the design and construction of self-propelled, semi-submersible vessels and used them to smuggle cocaine. The drug traffickers built and dispatched these vessels from Mayorquin, Colombia, an area on the country's pacific coast controlled by the 30th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The State Department has designated the 30th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia as a foreign terrorist organization. The drug traffickers paid the Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia a fee to conduct drug trafficking operations on its territory. Between 2004 and 2009, Riascos worked with others to dispatch more than 15 self-propelled, semi-submersible vessels from Mayorquin, each carrying between 2,000 and 5,000 kilograms of cocaine. The total amount of cocaine trafficked by Riascos is valued at more than $1 billion.
Riascos is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 9. He was indicted Dec. 2, 2010, and extradited to the United States from Colombia April 17.
The current suspected head of the Morfi drug trafficking organization, Jose Samir Renteria-Cuero, aka "Jose Morfi," is in custody in Colombia. He has been indicted and is pending extradition to the Middle District of Florida for prosecution. An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of the federal criminal laws, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.
The Panama Express South Strike Force is an organized crime drug enforcement task force. These task forces identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation's drug supply.