U.S. District Judge Charlene E. Honeywell of the Middle District of Florida sentenced Eduardo Quinones-Rodriguez (57, Colombia) to 17 years and 6 months in federal prison for conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute 464 kilograms of cocaine and 217 kilograms of marijuana – approximately 1,500 pounds of narcotics. Quinones-Rodriguez had pleaded guilty on August 11, 2022.
According to court documents and information presented in court, in the middle of the night on February 21, 2022, Quinones-Rodriguez and his two co-conspirators were trafficking narcotics on the high seas in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, approximately 70 miles south of Panama. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Cutter Legare was patrolling in the vicinity and deployed its helicopter and 26-foot small boat to interdict the suspected drug traffickers.
When the Legare’s small boat team approached Quinones-Rodriguez’s 30-foot boat, a high-speed pursuit commenced in rough waters, with both vessels traveling at speeds over 30 knots. Given the nighttime occurrence, the only lighting in the immediate area was the USCG vessel’s flashing law enforcement lights, yellow spotlights, and mast light. The defendants failed to heed the Coast Guard’s repeated verbal directives to halt. Warning shots were fired from both the USCG helicopter and its small boat; this did not deter the drug traffickers.
For more than 20 minutes, the mariners continuously attempted to ram their vessel into the USCG small boat, seriously endangering the lives and safety of the five United States servicemembers on board.
After an hours-long pursuit, the USCG successfully interdicted the defendant’s vessel, which was laden with over $14 million of cocaine and marijuana.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Panama Express Strike Force, a standing Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Strike Force comprised of agents and analysts from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and the U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force South. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney David Pardo.