Henry Gonzalez, 47, and Francisco Rodriguez Infante, 28, pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute over 5 kilograms of cocaine while aboard a vessel in U.S. waters, according to U.S. Attorney Delia L. Smith.
According to court documents, on the evening of Sept. 25, 2019, the United States Coast Guard Cutter Donald Horsley intercepted a suspicious 55-foot vessel named La Gran Tormenta displaying Venezuelan nationality indicia approximately 38 nautical miles south of St. Croix.
Occupants of the La Gran Tormenta failed to respond to USCG’s efforts to engage in the questioning of the crew, and upon detection, the La Gran Tormenta changed course and began jettisoning packages, the documents stated. Horsley crew members subsequently retrieved two bales from the water. The two jettisoned bales contained packages with brick-shaped objects, which were subsequently laboratory tested and found to contain approximately 49 kilograms of cocaine hydrochloride, the documents stated.
After requesting and receiving permission to stop the vessel from Venezuela, USCG personnel attempted a right-of-visit boarding which was ineffective because the crew on the La Gran Tormenta disregarded the USCG’s instructions, the documents stated. Eventually, USCG personnel obtained control of the La Gran Tormenta through the use of an entanglement tactic that stopped the vessel’s engine. A USCG counter-drug boarding team later encountered 11 persons, including the defendants, the documents stated.
Noriega and Infante’s sentencing date is Oct. 14. They face a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors, it said.
The U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigated this case, and it is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa P. Ortiz.
This effort is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF.