TAMPA, FLORIDA — U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich sentenced Alex Gonzalez-Arango (39, Buenaventura, Colombia) to 19 years and seven months in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine while onboard a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Gonzalez-Arango pleaded guilty on March 11, 2014.
According to court documents, Gonzalez-Arango was a manager/supervisor of a drug trafficking organization operating out of Colombia and Venezuela. In that role, during July and September 2011, he helped to organize and execute multi-ton shipments of cocaine via two different self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS) vessels. In particular, Gonzalez-Arango recruited crewmembers for both SPSS ventures, and managed the day-to-day operations at the SPSS construction sites in Venezuela.
On or about July 13, 2011, the U.S. Coast Guard interdicted the first SPSS vessel in the Caribbean Sea. The vessel was approximately 45 feet long. The USCG intercepted the SPSS just as its crew scuttled the vessel, causing it to sink. Thereafter, law enforcement retrieved approximately 232 bales of cocaine from the sunken SPSS, making the total shipment weight approximately 5,861 kilograms of cocaine.
On or about September 17, 2011, the USCG intercepted the second SPSS vessel off the coast of Honduras, in international waters. This second SPSS was approximately 50 to 60 feet in length and was estimated to be carrying over 3,000 kilograms of cocaine when its crew scuttled it upon interdiction.
This case was investigated by the Panama Express Strike Force, involving members from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and the U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Jackson.
The Panama Express Strike Force is a federally approved Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. Operation Panama Express currently targets South American-based drug trafficking organizations responsible for smuggling drugs to the United States and elsewhere for distribution.