Edwin Vargas, 31, and Lennin Cornelio-Perez, 32, both of the Dominican Republic, pled guilty in District Court on St. Thomas to conspiracy to possess a controlled substance on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert announced in a news release issued Thursday.
According to court documents, a U.S. Coast Guard aircraft detected a go-fast style vessel with no indicia of nationality located about 65 nautical miles north of San Juan, Puerto Rico. After being detected, the go-fast vessel led authorities on a 10-hour chase in international waters between Puerto Rico and St. Thomas. USCG personnel were able to board the vessel when it finally went dead in the water approximately 96 nautical miles north of St. Thomas. Upon boarding the vessel, authorities discovered Vargas, Cornelio-Perez, and co-defendant Perez-Brito, along with 52 bales containing a total of approximately 1,132 kilograms of a white powdery substance that field tested positive for cocaine.
In pleading guilty, Vargas and Cornelio-Perez both admitted to having conspired to transport the cocaine by boat from Venezuela to Puerto Rico, with Vargas admitting to having been the boat’s captain and Cornelio-Perez admitting to having served as the boat’s mechanic.
Vargas and Cornelio-Perez face mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years’ imprisonment, a five-year term of supervised release, and fines of as much as $10 million each. The third suspect was not mentioned in Thursday’s news release.
This case is being investigated by the USCG, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air and Marine Operations (AMO), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Meredith J. Edwards.