Man caught with nearly 3,000 pounds of cocaine sentenced to 11 years by Alabama judge

Published 9:08 am Monday, January 23, 2023

A federal judge in Alabama sentenced a Colombian national this month to more than 11 years in prison after he was found with nearly 3,000 pounds of cocaine in an unmarked boat, presumably headed to the U.S.

United States District Court Chief Judge Jeffrey U. Beaverstock sentenced Jaminson Valencia Moreno to 135 months imprisonment for smuggling 1,315 kilograms of cocaine in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Valencia Moreno had previously pled guilty to the offense.

Documents filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama established that on January 11, 2022, while on routine patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, a Marine Patrol Aircraft located a suspected drug smuggling vessel approximately 50 nautical miles south of Isla De Malpelo, Colombia. The United States Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) James was patrolling nearby and diverted to intercept. The James developed reasonable suspicion of the vessel being without nationality, displaying no indicia of nationality, and drug trafficking in international waters.

The Coast Guard cutter launched an intercept craft, which reported seeing bales on board consistent with contraband on the vessel. The vessel had no physical flag flown, no registration documents, no registration number on the hull, no homeport on the hull, no name on the hull, and no other painted-on markings. The vessel was in fact a Vessel Without Nationality under United States law.

The USCG crew recovered approximately 1,315 kilograms of cocaine from the vessel. The defendant Jaminson Valencia Moreno conspired with two other men, Wilmer Orobio Payan and Osiber Vente Orobio, and others, to knowingly and intentionally possess with the intent to distribute the cocaine. Payan and Orobio both pleaded guilty to the offense and await sentencing.

In title 46 of the United States Code, Congress found and declared that (1) trafficking in controlled substances aboard vessels is a serious international problem, is universally condemned, and presents a specific threat to the security and societal well-being of the United States and (2) operating or embarking in a submersible vessel or semi-submersible vessel without nationality and on an international voyage is a serious international problem, facilitates transnational crime, including drug trafficking, and terrorism, and presents a specific threat to the safety of maritime navigation and the security of the United States. Title 46 further provides that such offenses may be prosecuted in any United States federal district court.

United States Attorney Sean P. Costello praised the outstanding work of the United States Coast Guard and federal investigators in interdicting and bringing these international drug smugglers to justice, noting “The wholesale value of the cocaine seized in this case is conservatively valued at approximately 40 million dollars and seizures of drugs in these quantities have a material impact the operations of drug cartels.”

The case was investigated by the United States Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney George F. May.