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Colombian Native Found Guilty By Jury Of Smuggling 1,307 Pounds Of Marijuana

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — The second of two men arrested for attempting to smuggle more than 1,307 pounds of marijuana by boat into the region has been found guilty, authorities said.

Cristian Valencia Mendoza of Colombia was convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States following a jury trial in U.S. District Court on St. Thomas, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said today.

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, on October 18, 2019, Valencia Mendoza was located on board a go-fast style vessel that was intercepted by a United States Coast Guard (USCG) cutter on routine patrol in the Eastern Pacific.

USCG crewmembers first sighted the go-fast vessel in international waters, about 45 nautical miles north of Malpelo Island, Colombia.

The vessel did not display any indicia of nationality and the co-conspirator, the captain of the vessel, told members of the USCG boarding team that the vessel was without nationality.

At least 21 bales of marijuana, consisting of 593 kilograms, were located on board the vessel and seized by USCG crew members.

Valencia Mendoza waived his rights and gave a statement to DEA Agents detailing his involvement in the drug smuggling operation.

He confessed that that he was hired to transport the marijuana from Colombia to Costa Rica. Valencia Mendoza stated that his role in the crime was to change fuel lines during the trip and to look out for law enforcement aircraft.

He acknowledged that he was to be paid a total of 40 million pesos, about $23,000 dollars, for his work on board the vessel.

Valencia Mendoza will remain in custody. The court scheduled his sentencing for April 28, 2020.

This case was investigated by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and the Virgin Islands Drug Enforcement Agency (VIDEA).

It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Donna Rainwater and Adam Sleeper.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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