A California federal jury convicted three men for trafficking nearly $17 million in cocaine off the coast of Mexico. The men face a possible life sentence later this year.
“This verdict is a result of the dedication of our law enforcement partners at the Coast Guard and DEA as well as the excellent trial advocacy of Assistant U.S. Attorneys Francis DiGiacco, Victor Pablo White, and Nicole Bredariol,” U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California Robert S. Brewer, Jr. said in a written statement. “Stopping dangerous drugs before they reach our shores is a key priority for the U.S. Attorney’s Office and we will continue to target these maritime smuggling routes to protect the citizens of our district.”
On May 24, a U.S. Maritime Patrol Aircraft observed a vessel in the Eastern Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico with multiple packages alongside. The aircraft notified the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Waesche, which moved into the area and spotted the boat. The CGC Waesche launched two small crafts to approach the vessel and found 15 bales of cocaine located about 50 yards from the boat.
Coast Guard officials seized the drugs and arrested Jorge Ivan Cobena-Laje, 41; Jose Manuel Murillo-Pivaque, 33; and Diomedes Valverde-Magla, 65. The men pleaded not guilty and went to trial in August. The jury found the trio guilty of Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute Cocaine on Board a Vessel and Possession of Cocaine with Intent to Distribute on Board a Vessel. Both charges call for a sentence of up to life in prison and a fine of up to $10 million.
“These smugglers have been brought to justice thanks to the dedication of the cutter Waesche’s officers and crew,” Rear Adm. Peter W. Gautier, Eleventh Coast Guard District Commander said in a written statement. “This seizure adds to the thousands of kilograms of deadly narcotics seized at sea every month through the efforts of the Coast Guard, our partner agencies, and partner nations. Together we will continue our determined fight against narcotics trafficking and the criminal networks that threaten our country.”
“We may not have a wall at sea, but we do have an elite group of DEA Agents working from South America, Central America and Mexico to protect the land, sea and air borders in San Diego and Imperial Counties,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Karen Flowers. “Utilizing all tools available, DEA merges actionable intelligence with the capabilities of other agencies to unleash the Coast Guard’s fury to stop drugs from getting to the United States. One Team, One Goal – to keep Americans safe and free from the scourge of illegal drugs.”