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Venezuelan Pleads Guilty to Possession of a Controlled Substance

The District Court building on St. Croix. (File photo)

Juan Rodriguez, a 26-year-old Venezuelan, pled guilty Monday in District Court on St. Croix to one count of possession of a controlled substance on board a vessel, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert announced.

This federal offense carries a possible sentence of as much as 40 years in prison, a maximum fine of up to $5 million and a term of supervised release of at least two years.

Sentencing is set for Dec. 12.

According to court documents, at about 7:50 p.m. May 8, 2017, a Joint Inter-Agency Task Force South Patrol Aircraft located a northbound go-fast vessel about 105 nautical miles west of Martinique. The vessel was located in a known drug-trafficking route. It contained multiple fuel barrels and suspicious packages visible on deck. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Donald Horsley was directed to intercept the vessel. Upon arrival, the crew of the go-fast vessel was observed tossing the suspicious packages and fuel barrels overboard.

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Ultimately, the crew of the cutter Donald Horsley recovered eight packages, which contained approximately 162 kilograms of marijuana.

The defendant was one of the seven Venezuelan national crew onboard the GFV.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Drug Enforcement Administration. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Huston.