A federal jury on St. Thomas convicted Cristian Valencia Mendoza, a Colombian national, of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said in a news release issued Wednesday.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, on Oct. 18 the defendant was found aboard a go-fast style vessel that was intercepted by a United States Coast Guard cutter on routine patrol in the Eastern Caribbean. USCG crewmembers first sighted the go-fast vessel in international waters, approximately 45 nautical miles north of Malpelo Island, Colombia. The vessel did not display any indicia of nationality and the co- conspirator, the captain of the vessel, told members of the USCG Boarding Team that the vessel was without nationality.
The captain, Hansel Andres Centeno Arriola, pleaded guilty to the charges Friday.
Coast Guard crew members found and seized 21 bales of marijuana totaling 593 kilograms on board the vessel. The defendant waived his rights and gave a statement to DEA agents detailing his involvement in the drug smuggling operation. He confessed that that he was hired to transport the marijuana from Colombia to Costa Rica. He stated that his role in the crime was to change fuel lines during the trip and to look out for law enforcement aircraft. He acknowledged that he was to be paid a total of 40 million pesos, approximately $23,000, for his work onboard the vessel.
The defendant will remain in custody, and the court scheduled the defendant’s sentencing for April 28.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard and the V.I. Drug Enforcement Agency. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Donna Rainwater and Adam Sleeper.