5th Venezuelan Pleads Guilty In Cocaine Bust Off STX

Carlos Rodriguez Garcia, 26, one of eleven Venezuelan nationals apprehended at sea off the coast of St. Croix, recently pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Virgin Islands. The sentencing date for Garcia is scheduled for October 19. For his conviction, Garcia faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

According to court documents, on the evening of September 25, 2019, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Donald Horsley intercepted a 55-foot vessel named La Gran Tormenta displaying Venezuelan nationality indications, about 38 nautical miles south of St. Croix. Occupants of the La Gran Tormenta allegedly failed to respond to the Coast Guard’s efforts to engage in questioning of the crew, and upon detection, the La Gran Tormenta reportedly changed course and began jettisoning packages. Crew members from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Donald Horsley retrieved two bales from the water. The two jettisoned bales contained packages with brick-shaped objects which were laboratory tested and reportedly found to contain about 49 kilograms of cocaine hydrocholoride.

After requesting and receiving permission from the nation of Venezuela to stop the vessel, the Coast Guard attempted a right-of-visit boarding which was ineffective because crew on the La Gran Tormenta disregarded instructions. Eventually, the Coast Guard obtained control of the La Gran Tormenta through use of an entanglement tactic which stopped the vessel’s engine. A Coast Guard counter-drug boarding team later encountered 11 people, including the defendants.