August 12, 2017

Three Colombian men convicted of smuggling just short of a ton of cocaine in a go-fast boat in the eastern Pacific Ocean were sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. 

Henry Vazquez Valois, Diego Portocarrero Valencia and Luis Felipe Valencia all were convicted in May of possession with intent to distribute cocaine while on board a vessel and conspiracy to do the same. The maximum punishment for each count is life imprisonment.

The men were sentenced before Senior U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn on Aug. 4. They filed their formal notice to appeal on Wednesday. 

The three men were aboard a 30-foot go-fast boat with 12 fuel barrels in the eastern Pacific Ocean on Nov. 25 when they were spotted by the Virginia Beach-based Coast Guard cutter Dependable about 18 miles south of Panama, according to court records.

The Dependable launched a small boat to intercept the go-fast vessel, but the suspect boat attempted to flee while those aboard tossed bales into the water, records state.

Eventually, the suspect boat stopped and Vazquez-Valois identified himself as the captain. The boat then began taking on water and the Coast Guard ordered the men to reinsert a plug, but the vessel quickly sank. Smuggling suspects often deliberately sink their boats in an effort to destroy evidence in the case, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent wrote in the complaint against the men.

A second Coast Guard small boat retrieved 16 bales of suspected cocaine from the water weighing a total of 640 kilograms or close to a ton, records state.

The men were brought back to Key West, where they were detained awaiting trial.

alinhardt@keysnews.com