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$190 million cocaine bust nets 30-year prison sentence

Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma leaves for a North Atlantic patrol from Portsmouth Naval Station in Kittery, Maine, Nov. 11, 2014. The 270-foot cutter worked to keep fishermen safe, ensure sustainable fisheries and protect American waters from foreign encroachment. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma)

A case that began with the U.S. Coast Guard intercepting a shipment of cocaine worth $190 million ended this week with a 30-year prison sentence for one of men charged with smuggling it.

According to information provided by the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of Alabama, U.S. District Court Judge Terry F. Moorer pronounced the sentence to Ecuadorian citizen Luis Eduardo Montenegro Martinez on Monday. Martinez had entered a guilty plea in December 2018.

The case began in August 2018, when a Joint Interagency Task Force South patrol aircraft detected a “low profile go-fast vessel” about 300 miles northwest of Ecuador on “a common seaborne smuggling route” from Colombia to Central America. The boat was intercepted by U.S. Coast Guard units, including the cutter Tahoma. Coast Guard personnel found the vessel to be “flying no flag, had no vessel registration documents and no other indicia of nationality.” They recovered more than 1,900 kilograms of cocaine with a retail street value of approximately $190 million in the United States.

Several other smugglers received lesser sentences. According to the U.S. attorney’s office, Martinez received a higher sentence because of a previous conviction. In 2003 he’d been caught in international waters with more than 2,300 kilograms of cocaine. He’d been sentenced to serve more than 10 years in prison in that case.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney George F. May.

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