U.S., Colombia Collaborate to Nab ‘Go-Fast’ Drug Traffickers

Pacific Naval Force Seizes over a Ton of Cocaine

Por Dialogo
fevereiro 01, 2011



A team effort by Colombian authorities, the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard led to guilty pleas this month in a
Washington D.C. federal court for two Colombian drug traffickers who employed high
tech “go-fast” boats to move their loads.
Wilson Jesus Torres-Torres and Baudillo Vivero-Cardenas ran a network that
used the sleek, powerful vessels to speed cocaine from ports on Colombia’s coast to
waiting ships on the high seas, federal authorities told Diálogo.
The boats often have more than 1,000 horsepower and travel at speeds of up to
80 knots in open water. They are newer versions of the boats seen 25 years ago on
TV's Miami Vice.
Authorities seized more than 21,000 kilograms of cocaine as a result of the
inter-governmental and inter-agency operation. Officials would not reveal which
agencies made specific seizures, saying the U.S. and Colombian governments have
intelligence gathering concerns.
“The case is ongoing,” DEA Special Agent David Melenkevitz said in a
telephone interview with Diálogo.
Sentencing for both men in scheduled for March 25. It will likely be a long
time before they see another fast boat. Each faces up to 40 years in federal prison.
The story of their drug conspiracy stretches back several years.
Torres-Torres, a former maritime instructor in Colombia, and Vivero-Cardenas
popped up on law enforcement radar screens when they helped move tons of cocaine to
the U.S. as part of a drug trafficking organization based on Beunaventura, Colombia.
Navigating with global positioning systems and communicating with
high-frequency radios and satellite phones, the men evaded detection as they sped
along Colombia’s Pacific Ocean coastline. They often negotiated, on the fly, safe
rendezvous points in their “go-fast” boats. On some occasions they traveled more
stealthily in commercial fishing vessels.
Over time, they transported “thousands of kilograms of cocaine,” Melenkevitz
said.
Their customers included several leading Colombian drug trafficking
organizations.

Ongoing Investigation

The pair was arrested in Colombia in the summer of 2009; Vivero-Cardenas was
extradited to the U.S on Sept. 2, 2009 and Torres-Torres was brought here three
weeks later.
U.S. officials promised that both would be spared a life sentence - the
maximum penalty for conspiracy to transport cocaine.
Torres-Torres also was fined $4 million. Vivero Cardenas was fined $2
million.
The U.S. Coast Guard was “significantly” involved in the operation to capture
Torres-Torres and Vivero-Cardenas, as were the Miami Field Division of the DEA, the
Criminal Division of the DOJ, the DEA’s Resident Office in Cartegena, Colombia, and
the DEA’s Special Operations Division, according to Department of Justice spokesman
Jeffrey Lyman.
The U.S. Coast Guard covers an illegal drug trade “transit zone” of six
million square miles in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Pacific Ocean
with an array of patrol boats and cutters.
The agency in 2010 was involved in 131 drug interdictions, seized 56 vessels
and detained 319 suspects who were transporting 36,000 pounds of marijuana and
202,402 kilograms of cocaine, according to Coast Guard statistics.
The Coast Guard has accomplished nine drug interdictions this fiscal year.
They have seized five vessels, detained 15 suspects and confiscated 3,150 pounds of
marijuana and 1,092 kilograms of cocaine. The Coast Guard accounts for some 52
percent of illegal drug seizures in the U.S. each year, according to the Department
of Homeland Security, the parent agency of the Coast Guard.
A large but classified number of counterdrug patrols are conducted daily in
the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean by the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, allies and
partner nation vessels and aircraft operating as part of the Joint Interagency Task
Force South located in Key West, Fla. This organization executes drug detection and
monitoring patrols for the Pentagon’s U.S. Southern Command. JIATF South also
manages information sharing from investigative agencies like DEA.
When suspected drug vessels are discovered, law enforcement action is
directed and undertaken by Coast Guard personnel. Follow on prosecution is then
conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
"I commend the interagency community and our international partners for their
significant interdiction efforts,” Gil Kerlikowske, former chief of police in
Seattle and director of National Drug Control Policy at the White House said in a
statement to the media.
Disrupting drug trafficking is a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s
national drug control policy, along with drug abuse prevention. Forging partnerships
with foreign governments is essential to restoring the “rule of law” and restoring
“stability” the western hemisphere, Kerlikowske said when nominated for his position
by the president.
Criminal enterprises from South America smuggle cocaine into the United
States through a variety of routes, including maritime routes along Mexico's east
and west coasts, and sea routes through the Caribbean.
These criminals run cocaine shipping and money laundering networks through a
massive infrastructure of multiple cells, which function in major metropolitan areas
in the U.S. Each narco-cell undertakes a specific function within the organization,
i.e., transportation, local sales, or money movement.
Drug lords based in Colombia oversee the global drug smuggling operations,
and about 65 percent of the cocaine shipped to the U.S. originates on the Pacific
coast of Colombia, according to justice department officials.
The Department of Justice office in Washington D.C. took the lead in the
Torres-Torres/Vivero-Cardenas case.
“The D.C. office, the criminal division, brought this to us,” Lyman said in a
telephone interview. “They developed this.”
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