The Coast Guard recently announced offloading, at Port Charlotte, Fla., more than 15,800 kilograms of seized cocaine. That’s nearly 35,000 pounds, and more than 17 tons. The Miami Herald estimated its retail value per kilo around $411 million to $442.6 million. Sold per gram, it’s around $790.4 million to $1.2 billion.
That’s a lot of freight. And with that cocaine, along with the marijuana, comes the men accused of transporting it north through the eastern Pacific Ocean and through the Caribbean Sea. When those men are detained on the sea and released in Florida, they’re prosecuted there, usually convicted there and end up in a federal prison.
When they’re incarcerated at the privately run federal prison in Folkston, they have to have a hearing in federal court in Brunswick before they can serve the rest of their sentence in their home country. There are many foreign nationals at the D. Ray James Correctional Facility, so there are regular hearings at the U.S. Courthouse locally. Thursday, three more men began their journeys home.
Johnny Henry Jones pleaded guilty in the Southern District of Florida, in Miami, to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana onboard a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. He received a sentence of five years and 10 months in prison, and four years of supervised release.
According to an affidavit sworn out by Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent David Brockman, Jones was on a 40-foot go-fast boat around 100 miles south of San Andres Island, Colombia, in May 2015, with three other men. The agent wrote that the vessel had no name and no clear registration, but it did have a large number of fuel drums on board. The Coast Guard Cutter Resolute approached while people on board the boat jettisoned cargo into the water.
Brockman stated, “While the (Coast Guard) was conducting its boarding, the go-fast’s crew made a verbal claim of Costa Rica nationality for themselves and the vessel. Based on the verbal claim of nationality, the United States contacted the government of Costa Rica. The government of Costa Rica denied the vessel’s nationality.
“USCG personnel continued their boarding under the Statement of No Objection. USCG recovered a total of 62 bales weighing approximately 3,100 pounds which tested positive for marijuana. The go-fast was unable to be towed and was destroyed as a hazard to navigation.”
Jones began serving his sentence Feb. 1, 2016, and if he stayed in the United States, he would have a projected release date of June 24, 2020, and a maximum release date of March 25, 2021. Standing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Benjamin Cheesbro, Jones confirmed his desire to transfer to Costa Rica to finish out his term.
Shawn Cox and Nathaniel Erskine Rolle went before Cheesbro together because they both seek and confirmed their desire to transfer to the Bahamas.
According to Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Robert Burns, Cox was part of a marine smuggling effort with two other men. Their 25-foot Panga go-fast boat was 43 miles south of Punta Maisi, Cuba, when a patrol aircraft spotted it. Coast Guard Cutter Tampa moved in to intercept and launched a vessel to pursue it, aided by aircraft. A boarding team recovered 15 bundles tossed from the boat.
The affidavit states the men had 989 of marijuana on board, but there was a typo of omission which failed to state of what unit of measurement was the 989. The indictment accused the men of handling more than 100 kilograms of marijuana. An amount of 989 kilos would make sense in this light, because it would be slightly more than one ton of marijuana, which is a typical weight for many go-fast craft smuggling operations.
Cox pleaded guilty in the Southern District of Alabama, in Mobile, to conspiracy to the same charge as Jones. He received five years in prison, with credit for time served, and five years’ supervised release. He began his sentence June 30, 2017. His projected release date is April 15, 2021, and maximum release date is Dec. 6, 2021.
Rolle was the man in charge on a go-fast boat with three other men and a juvenile in May 2014, when the Coast Guard Cutter Charles Sexton found them during a Caribbean patrol. Personnel from the cutter detained the men 25 miles off the Haitian coast.
DEA Special Agent Salvador Aceves wrote in his affidavit that the Bahamian military gave authorization for the boarding of the vessel, which — unusually — had a registration number visible, which tracked back to the Bahamas.
According to the affidavit, “The USCGC Charles Sexton recovered 42 bales from the water containing approximately 379 bricks of suspected marijuana, weighing approximately 861 kilograms, and two duffel bags containing approximately 35 kilograms of suspected cocaine from the debris field of objects jettisoned by the go-fast vessel.”
The men and child first went into the custody of the Coast Guard Cutter Paul Clark, which then handed them over to U.S. law enforcement, who detained them in Miami.
Rolle pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, possession with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and failure to heave.
Rolle received, ultimately, 11 years and three months in prison and five years supervised release. He began his sentence Dec. 30, 2014, with a projected release date of May 4, 2024, and a maximum release date of Aug. 3, 2025.