Crew of 'The Blessed Lion," who smuggled cocaine to the US by sea, gets nearly 5 years

Crew of ‘The Blessed Lion,” who smuggled cocaine to the US by sea, gets nearly 5 years

CHRISTIANSTED — A cocaine smuggler from Nicaragua got nearly five years in prison from a federal judge.

Michael Nelson-Gaet, 36, of Managua, was sentenced to 57 months incarceration after pleading guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, U.S. Attorney Delia L. Smith said.

U.S. District Judge Wilma A. Lewis also sentenced Nelson-Gaet to two years of supervised release and a $100 special assessment, Smith added.

According to court documents, on March 5, 2022, while patrolling in international waters, the United States Coast Guard Cutter Legare intercepted go-fast vessel “La Bendecida Leo” 140 nautical miles southwest of Isla de Malpelo, Columbia.

The vessel was traveling at a high rate of speed with bales and fuel barrels observed on deck. Nelson-Gaet, Jorge Gutierrez-Picado and Roy McElroy-Carlos were observed onboard the vessel throwing bales of suspected narcotics overboard.

The vessel had no registration and the occupants claimed Nicaraguan nationality for the vessel. Nicaragua could neither confirm nor deny nationality of the vessel to the Coast Guard thereby subjecting the vessel to the jurisdiction of the United States.

A search of the La Bendecida Leo, including the bales recovered from the ocean, resulted in the seizure of approximately 550 kilograms of cocaine and 136 pounds of marijuana.

For his role, Gutierrez-Picado was sentenced to 70 months incarceration and two years of supervised release, and McElroy-Carlos awaits trial in his case.

This case was investigated by the United States Coast Guard, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigated. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Huston.

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