Court Sentences High Seas Drug Trafficker Jackson Alexander Vera Cabeza to 120 Months Imprisonment for Smuggling 1,916 Kilograms of Cocaine

(STL.News) – United States District Court Judge Terry F. Moorer sentenced Jackson Alexander Vera Cabeza, an Ecuadorian national, for being caught in international water in the act of smuggling 1,916 kilograms of cocaine.

Court records established that on August 4, 2018, while on routine patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, a Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S) Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) visually detected a low profile go-fast vessel (LPGFV) operating in international waters, approximately 302 nautical miles Northwest of the country of Ecuador and suspected to be engaged in drug trafficking.  United States Coast Guard (USCG) Cutter “TAHOMA” diverted to intercept.  The LPGFV initially ignored warning shots fired from a USCG helicopter and the commands to stop given by personnel on the TAHOMA.  The Helicopter activated its lights and gave commands in English and Spanish for the LPGFV to stop which the LPGFV ignored.  The helicopter next completed three “stiches” firing 25 warning shots with a M240B machine gun, 5 yards off the bow of the vessel to get it to stop.  The LPGFV still failed to stop.  The TAHOMA had launched an Over the Horizon (OTH) vessel to intercept the LPGFV and eventually the vessel came to a stop.

The LPGFV yielded no flag flown, no vessel registration documents and no other indicia of nationality.  The TAHOMA personnel completed the boarding of the LPGFV and recovered approximately 1,916 kilograms of cocaine stored on the vessel.  The 1,916 kilograms of cocaine had a retail street value of approximately of over $190,000,000 in the United States.

Jackson Alexander Vera Cabeza was charged in United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama along with William Toloza Cuero, and Cesar Xavier Garcia Vera, who were previously sentenced by the Court, and Luis Eduardo Montenegro Martinez, who remains to be sentenced.  The smugglers were travelling a common seaborne smuggling route to transport the cocaine from Columbia and deliver it to Central America in order that it could be further distributed.

Title 46 United States Code, § 70501 states: Congress finds and declares that (1) trafficking in controlled substances aboard vessels is a serious international problem, is universally condemned, and presents a specific threat to the security and societal well-being of the United States and (2) operating or embarking in a submersible vessel or semi-submersible vessel without nationality and on an international voyage is a serious international problem, facilitates transnational crime, including drug trafficking, and terrorism, and presents a specific threat to the safety of maritime navigation and the security of the United States.  Title 46 further provides that such offenses may be prosecuted in any United States federal district court.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney George F. May, Deputy Criminal Chief.  The case was investigated by the United States Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations.