Maritime Trafficker Sentenced to 25 Years
U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew sentenced Arley Fernando Garces (34, Colombia) to 25 years in federal prison for possession with intent to distribute cocaine while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, and conspiracy to do the same, in violation of the U.S. Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act. Garces pleaded guilty on April 14, 2014. Garces is the last of three co-defendants to be sentenced in this case. Judge Bucklew previously sentenced Santos Cerros-Maldonado to 12 years and four months’ imprisonment. Gregorio Campo-Rodriguez was sentenced to seven years and three months in federal prison.
According to court documents and testimony, on August 19, 2013, the United States Coast Guard interdicted Garces, Campo-Rodriguez and Cerros-Maldonado onboard a stateless vessel in the Caribbean Sea. During the interdiction, individuals onboard that vessel jettisoned electronics, personal identifying information, and one kilogram of cocaine. Investigators later determined that Garces and his co-conspirators were smuggling hundreds of kilograms of cocaine in a false bottom of that vessel.
This case was investigated by the Panama Express South Strike Force, a standing Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation comprised of agents and analysts from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the United States Coast Guard Investigative Service, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force South. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply.
The case was prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Michael J. Meyer and Assistant United States Attorney Maria Chapa-Lopez.