CHRISTIANSTED — Two Venezuelan members of an 11-man fishing vessel crew admitted to their roles in bringing 121 pounds of cocaine to the territory.
Henry Gonzalez Noriega, 47, and Francisco Rodriguez Infante, 28, each of Caracas, pleaded guilty Wednesday before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Emile A. Henderson III to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute over five kilograms of cocaine while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, U.S. Attorney Delia L. Smith said.
According to court documents, on the evening of September 25, 2019, the
United States Coast Guard (USCG) Cutter Donald Horsley intercepted a suspicious 55-foot vessel named La Gran Tormenta displaying Venezuelan nationality indicia approximately 38 nautical miles south of St. Croix.
Occupants of the La Gran Tormenta failed to respond to USCG’s efforts to engage in questioning of the crew, and upon detection, the La Gran Tormenta changed course and began jettisoning packages.
Crew members from the USCG Cutter Donald Horsley subsequently
retrieved two bales from the water.
The two jettisoned bales contained packages with brick-shaped objects which were subsequently laboratory tested and found to contain approximately 49 kilograms of cocaine hydrocholoride.
After requesting and receiving permission to stop the vessel from the Venezuela, the flag state, USCG personnel attempted a right-of-visit boarding which was ineffective because crew on the La Gran Tormenta disregarded the USCG’s instructions.
Eventually, USCG personnel obtained control of the La Gran Tormenta
through use of an entanglement tactic which stopped the vessel’s engine.
A USCG counter-drug boarding team later encountered 11 persons, including the defendants.
The sentencing date for Noriega and Infante is scheduled for October 14, 2022.
For their convictions, they face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Border
Protection, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa P. Ortiz.
This effort is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States
using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach.
Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at