BOSTON – A Colombian national was sentenced last week in federal court in Boston for trafficking cocaine on board maritime vessels.
Alex Mendoza Vasquez, 38, was sentenced on Tuesday, June 16, 2020 by U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young to 60 months in prison and ordered to forfeit $300,000. In May 2019, Mendoza Vasquez pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and one count of possession with intent to distribute and distribution of five kilograms or more of cocaine on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Mendoza Vasquez, a Colombian national, was extradited from Colombia on March 29, 2019 to face charges.
Beginning at least as early as 2013, Mendoza Vasquez and others were involved in the maritime shipment of cocaine that was sourced in Colombia and shipped via Venezuela to Spain, Puerto Rico, and other locations. The transactions followed a typical pattern: the cocaine was sourced in the area of Catatumbo, Colombia, transported to the port city of Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, and then ferried to Isla Margarita, off the coast of Venezuela. Thereafter, based upon an agreed-upon date, time, sea coordinates, and a code word, small lanchas carrying the cocaine met a fishing vessel that was offshore. The small lanchas provided the code word, and then transferred the drugs to the fishing vessel for further transport to the final destination in Europe or the Caribbean.
Based on BlackBerry PIN-to-PIN communications, consensually-recorded telephone calls, consensually-recorded meetings, communications intercepted during judicially-authorized Colombian wiretaps, the seizure of 1,688 kilograms of cocaine, e-mail messages, and photographs, investigators determined that Mendoza Vasquez was an active participant in the organization’s drug trafficking activity and specifically was involved in arranging shipments of cocaine to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
In particular, on Jan. 23, 2015, Mendoza Vasquez met with co-conspirators at a residence in Cucuta, Colombia, to plan for 600 kilograms of cocaine to be shipped to Puerto Rico. Following this meeting, Mendoza Vasquez and others arranged for a co-conspirator, who was a drug transporter, to receive the cocaine at a warehouse that he maintained on Isla Margarita in Venezuela. The transporter organized the kilograms of cocaine in 30-kilogram bundles so that the shipment included a total of 20 bales of cocaine.
At the direction of the owners of the cocaine, including Mendoza Vasquez, the transporter had the bales loaded on two small boats, one carrying 14 bales and one carrying six bales. On Aug. 15, 2015, the two small boats departed Isla Margarita at approximately 9:00 p.m. The two small boats were to deliver a total of 30 bales of cocaine to a fishing vessel, which would transport the cocaine to meet a go-fast boat at pre-arranged coordinates at sea. Eventually, the boat carrying 14 bales reached the fishing vessel; the second boat eventually returned to Isla Margarita with six bales of cocaine based on concerns regarding the presence of law enforcement. According to recorded communications, the fishing vessel received 14 bales of cocaine and transported them to the coordinates to meet a go-fast boat.
On Aug. 19, 2015, Puerto Rican-based federal agents observed three men navigating a Yamaha power boat with the lights off in the Farjardo coast area of Puerto Rico. Officers instructed the vessel, which had no registration, to stop. The Yamaha power boat did not comply and law enforcement disabled the vessel. Federal investigators searched the nearby area and recovered 13 bales containing nearly 400 kilograms of cocaine and located large amounts of rope and a knife on the shoreline.
Later the same day, in a BlackBerry chat with a co-conspirator, Mendoza confirmed his involvement in the load and reported to the co-conspirators that authorities had arrested three individuals, that four sacks of cocaine were left on the shore, and that their associates had hidden some of the cocaine bales.
The operation was conducted by a multi-agency task force through the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a partnership between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and money laundering organizations, and those primarily responsible for the nation’s illegal drug supply. More information on the OCDETF program is available here: https://www.justice.gov/ocdetf/about-ocdetf.
United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling and Brian D. Boyle, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, New England Division, made the announcement today. Valuable assistance was provided by the Colombian National Police, the Spanish Guardia Civil, and the Portuguese Air Force. Assistant U.S. Attorney Linda Ricci, Chief of Lelling’s Narcotics and Money Laundering Unit, prosecuted the case.
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