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Four foreign nationals indicted in historic U.S. Coast Guard cocaine seizure

U.S. Coast Guard personnel from USCG Cutter Sitkinak offload 2500 lbs of cocaine
U.S. Coast Guard personnel from USCG Cutter Sitkinak offload 2500 lbs of cocaine
Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Crystalynn A. Kneen

On January 29, 2014, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida announced the indictment by a Grand Jury in Tampa of four foreign nationals, charging them with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine. The charges stemmed from a January 22, 2014 incident when a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, operating from the British Royal Vessel ‘Wave Knight’, spotted a go-fast boat suspected of smuggling narcotics in the waters south of the Dominican Republic and signaled the vessel to stop. Seeing the helicopter, the four people on board the vessel began to jettison bales of what was later determined to be cocaine. Coast Guard officials in the helicopter fired upon the vessel, disabling the engines, which terminated the high seas pursuit. Officials recovered 45 bales of cocaine, weighing approximately 2,500 pounds, and detained the four people on board, identified as Linberto Gallardo-Gonzalez (42); Uriel Julio Tapia (35); Miguel Vasquez-Barrios (37), all of Colombia, South America; and Miguel Angel Sori-Ortiz (41, Dominican Republic). If convicted, the four men face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison. In addition to the U.S. Coast Guard and British Royal Navy, agents from the Panama Express Strike Task Force, dedicated to the dismantling of multinational drug trafficking syndicates, continue to investigate this case. Panama Express includes agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, and the U.S. Military Joint Interagency Task Force South.