Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Administrator Michele M. Leonhart of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) made the announcement.
Angel Javier Varon Castro, 43; Luis Delio Herrera Astudillo, 45; and Eusebio David Webster Archbold, 33, all Colombian nationals, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell of the District of Columbia to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possess with intent to distribute cocaine on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Sentencing is set for Jan. 9, 2015.
“Today’s guilty pleas highlight our successful and vigorous partnership with Colombian law enforcement as we work to halt the flow of drugs heading north from the coast of Colombia,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “These defendants and their drug trafficking partners used seagoing vessels to inject vast quantities of cocaine into international commerce. But while drug traffickers may believe they can operate on the high seas with impunity, today’s convictions prove otherwise. Working with our international partners, we will bring to justice those who would flood our ports and, ultimately, our communities with dangerous narcotics.”
“The arrests and guilty pleas of these three international drug smugglers are the direct result of the resolute partnership between the DEA and our Colombian law enforcement partners,” said DEA Administrator Leonhart. “This is another example of the fine work that DEA, prosecutors, and our partners around the globe accomplish every day.”
According to their plea agreements, the defendants worked for a drug-trafficking organization responsible for transporting cocaine aboard go-fast vessels leaving from the area of Cartagena, Colombia, to Central America, and traveling in international waters on vessels subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. During the investigation, pursuant to Colombian judicial authority, law enforcement recorded the defendants’ telephone conversations in which they planned the operation, including the use of two 40-foot go-fast vessels. These boats were later intercepted in February and April 2010 in international waters by the United States Coast Guard. Go-fast vessels are specially equipped speed boats designed to transport large quantities of narcotics.
This Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) case, called Operation Pacific Empire, is being investigated by DEA’s Cartagena Country Office, assisted by DEA’s offices in Miami and Puerto Rico. The Cartagena office worked in partnership with the Judicial Police of the Prosecutor General’s Office in Colombia (CTI) and the Colombian National Police.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Meredith Mills, Brad Price and Paul Laymon of the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, with significant assistance from the Judicial Attachés in Bogotá, Colombia, the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, and the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Republic of Colombia.