Vicent Mata Anyelo, 23, Alfer Rodriguez Boadas, 24, and Jhonny Rodriguez Rodriguez, 29, three of eleven Venezuelan nationals apprehended at sea off the coast of St. Croix, have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, according to a release from U.S. Attorney Delia Smith.
According to court documents, on the evening of Sept. 25, 2019, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Donald Horsley intercepted a 55-foot vessel named “La Gran Tormenta” displaying Venezuelan nationality indicia roughly 38 nautical miles south of St. Croix. Occupants of the La Gran Tormenta reportedly failed to respond to the Coast Guard’s efforts to engage in questioning of the crew, and upon detection, the La Gran Tormenta allegedly changed course and began jettisoning packages. Crew members from the Coast Guard Cutter Donald Horsley reportedly subsequently retrieved two bales from the water. The two jettisoned bales reportedly contained packages with brick-shaped objects which were subsequently laboratory tested and found to contain approximately 49 kilograms of cocaine hydrocholoride.
After requesting and receiving permission to stop the vessel from the Venezuela, the flag state, Coast Guard personnel attempted a right-of-visit boarding which was ineffective as the crew of the La Gran Tormenta disregarded the Coast Guard’s instructions. Shortly thereafter, Coast Guard personnel obtained control of the La Gran Tormenta. A Coast Guard counter-drug boarding team later reportedly encountered 11 persons, including the defendants. Anyelo was the captain of the vessel.
Sentencing hearings have been scheduled for Oct. 27 and 28, 2022. For their convictions, they face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.