The U.S. Coast Guard offloaded approximately 573 pounds of marijuana, valued at about $1.2 million, Thursday in St. Croix.
The offload followed a sea interdiction in international waters off the French Caribbean island of Martinique, according to the Coast Guard. Seven suspected smugglers, all Venezuelan nationals, have been turned over to the U.S. Department of Justice for potential prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of the Virgin Islands.
According to acting U.S. Attorney Joycelyn Hewlett, the seven suspects and their charges are Felix Gomez, 37; Roman Jose Aguilera Gig, 37; Jesus Garcia, 34; Rosauro Morao, 47; Manuel Rodriguez, 51; Juan Rodriguez, 25,; and Jhoan Gomez, 28, all of Venezuela. They made their initial appearances Friday before U.S. Magistrate Judge George W. Cannon, Jr., after being charged in a complaint with conspiracy to possess controlled substance on board a vessel, and possession of controlled substances on board a vessel.
A detention hearing is scheduled for May 23.
The interdiction was the result of ongoing, multi-agency and international law enforcement efforts, the Coast Guard said.
According to the Coast Guard, a suspicious go-fast vessel was detected during the afternoon of May 8, in international waters off Martinique by a maritime patrol aircraft flying in support of Joint Interagency Task Force-South. Coast Guard watch standers at Sector San Juan diverted the Coast Guard Cutter Donald Horsley to interdict the suspect vessel. The cutter crew interdicted the go-fast, detained the seven men onboard and seized multiple bales of contraband, which tested positive for marijuana.
“Thanks to the interagency cooperation and strong regional partnerships, we succeeded in stopping this illegal drug smuggling venture and bringing seven suspected smugglers to justice,” said Cmdr. Christopher Douglas, Sector San Juan chief of response.
The contraband offloaded in the U.S. Virgin Islands was placed in the custody of the DEA special agents in St. Croix for processing and disposition.
The Coast Guard Cutter Donald Horsley is a 154-foot fast response cutter homeported in San Juan.
Editor’s note: This story was updated after posting to include the names of the suspects.