Tampa, Florida– U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew has sentenced Lelia Vanessa Perdomo Zapata (26, Colombia, South America) to 15 years in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine while onboard a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, for possession with the intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine on that vessel, and for perjury.
A federal jury had found Zapata guilty on September 3, 2019.
According to trial evidence, Zapata was the Colombian load guard for a Cartagena, Colombia-based cocaine smuggling crew and part of an international maritime drug smuggling operation involving at least 440 kilograms of cocaine, worth approximately $13 million. Prior to their interdiction by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), Zapata and one of her co-conspirators were transporting 18 bales of cocaine onboard a 60-foot sailing vessel from Cartagena to Cancun, Mexico. Ultimately, USCG law enforcement officers from Tactical Law Enforcement Team (TACLET) Pacific boarded the sailing vessel and discovered 18 bales of cocaine and multiple electronic devices consistent with cocaine trafficking. Subsequent analyses of these devices yielded crucial digital evidence of the cocaine smuggling operation.
During trial, Zapata testified under oath for nearly seven hours and made numerous statements that were demonstrably false.
This case was investigated by the Panama Express Strike Force, an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) comprised of agents and analysts from the United States Coast Guard Investigative Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force South. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Diego F. Novaes and Special Assistant United States Attorney Nicholas DeRenzo.
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