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7 sentenced for drug smuggling

Caught with nearly a ton of cocaine, each of the men got prison terms of more than five years.

By GRAHAM BRINK

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 14, 2001


TAMPA -- Seven men arrested in December on drug smuggling charges were sentenced Thursday to prison terms ranging from nearly six years to more than 13 years.

They were accused of trying to smuggle more than 1,500 pounds of cocaine on a speed boat at least 100 miles off the coast of Ecuador when the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard caught up to them.

The U.S. Navy gave chase Dec. 18 and ordered the boat to stop. When the unmarked and unnamed boat did not, a helicopter was launched. With the helicopter in pursuit, the men on the boat dumped bundles of cocaine overboard, prosecutors said. The men also tried to dump some equipment, they said. Warning shots were fired in an attempt to get the men to stop. The men ended up scuttling the boat.

The Coast Guard launched an inflatable boat and plucked the men, and the cocaine, from the sea. The boat already had sunk. The men were taken to Panama and then flown to MacDill Air Force Base.

The men pleaded guilty early this year to possession with intent to distribute cocaine and/or conspiracy charges.

Silvio Orejuela Ceron received five years and 10 months in prison; Manuel Antes Garces nine years; Jesus Alberto Barrasa Mesa, 10 years and one month; Luis Estupian, Nargel Paredes and Luis Renteria received 11 years and three months each; Livio Rengifo Revelo, 13 years and three months.

In the past 18 months, the Navy and Coast Guard have seized about 90 tons of cocaine and arrested about 80 people, mostly from boats captured off the coast of South America in the Eastern Pacific. The arrests have been among the largest ever in terms of quantity of cocaine in the country's history. Some of the boats have been towed to the Tampa area, where the trials have taken place.

Prosecutors have had mixed success convicting the sailors.

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