The three men who pleaded guilty to their roles in the major drug conspiracy were sentenced Monday to federal prison terms.
Federal prosecutors said the Ecuadorian drug-trafficking ring responsible for flying the drug from Venezuela to South Florida had meticulously planned the operation.
Members of the drug ring worked over two days to remove the panels, seats and floorboards inside a 1976 Gulfstream II jet, then carefully measured the aircraft to calculate precisely how much of the illegal substance they could stuff inside the plane.
The traffickers even conducted a test flight in October, flying the twin-engine jet from South America to Las Vegas without any drugs on board to check if they could enter the U.S. without being stopped by law enforcement.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert T. Watson said that FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration agents were tipped off about the operation and had been investigating the group’s drug-smuggling and money-laundering operations for about a year.
When the group later flew the jet to Fort Lauderdale, agents who were working undercover helped them change the aircraft’s tail number. Secretly, the agents also placed a tracking device on the jet and installed a secret video-recording system in an airport hangar.
On Nov. 14, the jet flew from Fort Lauderdale to the Cayman Islands, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela.
Nine days later, it returned to the Fort Lauderdale hangar via Curacao and the Cayman Islands.
Authorities said the jet was carrying about 485 pounds of cocaine when it landed at the executive airport and was moved to the hangar.
Agents arrested [Our Client], 34, and [Our Client], 30, when they showed up to unload the plane the day before Thanksgiving. A third man, [Our Client], 49, was arrested later.
In April, all three pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to import cocaine. [Our Client] apleaded guilty to a second charge of possession with intent to supply the drug.
[Our Client], a car mechanic from Ecuador, and [Our Client], a cellphone salesman from Ecuador, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to import cocaine and possession with intent to supply the drug.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas sentenced [Our Client] to five years and 10 months in federal prison; [Our Client]to six years and six months; and [Our Client] to six years and eight months.
[Our Client] and [Our Client] will be deported after serving their prison terms and [Our Client], a naturalized U.S. citizen, could also be deported to his native Ecuador, the judge said.
Authorities said the suspected Ecuadorian leader of the group, had been arranging for cash and checks — the proceeds of the drug-trafficking operation — to be laundered through bank accounts in the U.S. and other countries since late 2013.
[Our Client] admitted that he collected and dropped off about $1.1 million worth of cash and checks at parking lots and hotels in South Florida. He also admitted he helped count about $120,000 in a hotel room in Miami and traveled to New York with his brother on a few occasions to pick up cash.
Article from a newspaper:
Paula McMahon. “$6.5M haul of smuggled cocaine at Executive Airport sends three to prison.” SunSentinel
JULY 6, 2015, 6:31PM