CHRISTIANSTED — Three more members of a Venezuelan fishing boat — including the vessel’s captain — have pleaded guilty to their roles in smuggling 124 pounds of cocaine to St. Croix.
Vincent Mata Anyelo, 23, Alfer Rodriguez Boadas, 24, and Jhonny Rodriguez Rodriguez, 29, three of eleven Venezuelan nationals apprehended at sea off the coast of St. Croix, pleaded guilty before United States Magistrate Judge Emile A. Henderson, III, to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 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 as the crew of the La Gran Tormenta disregarded the USCG’s instructions. Shortly thereafter, USCG personnel obtained control of the La Gran Tormenta through use of an entanglement tactics which disabled the vessel’s engine.
A USCG counter-drug boarding team later encountered 11 persons, including the defendants. Anyelo was the captain of the vessel.
Sentencing hearings have been scheduled for October 27, 2022, and October 28, 2022,
for the defendants. 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, U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa P. Ortiz.
This prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.