Nine Colombians Convicted in Record Maritime Cocaine Haul
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Nine Colombians arrested on a ship carrying a record six tons of cocaine have been convicted of possessing the drug with intent to distribute it.
The ship’s master, seven crewmen and the 26-year-old cook, who is 8 1/2 months pregnant, could be sentenced to life in prison. They were convicted Thursday by a federal court jury.
All nine were arrested Oct. 2 by the Coast Guard, which said the 12,000 pounds of cocaine was a record confiscation from a ship boarded at sea.
Jurors in U.S. District Judge Charles Schwartz’s court returned the verdict after a seven-day trial.
The defendants said they did not know there was cocaine in the locked containers loaded onto the Zedom Sea before it left Barranquilla, Colombia, on Sept. 23.
Prosecutors said it is doubtful the owner of $600 million worth of cocaine would have entrusted it to a crew he did not know. They said the cocaine was to have been transferred to another ship before the Zedom Sea reached Mexico.
The Colombian-owned ship was flying the Panamanian flag when it was seized in the Gulf of Mexico, several miles off the Mexican coast.
Before the trial, Schwartz rejected defense claims that U.S. officials did not have the required permission of Panamanian authorities to board the Zedom Sea, confiscate the cocaine and arrest the crew.
Prosecutors said former Panamanian President Eric Delvalle gave blanket authorization before his term expired Sept. 1 for U.S. ships to search suspicious Panamanian vessels.
No sentencing date has been set for the ship’s master, Arsenio Marin Pineda of Calarca-Quindi, the crewmen, and cook Leovigilda Calderon of Giron Santador.
Roma Kent, Calderon’s attorney, said her client’s baby probably will be turned over to state welfare authorities to be put in a foster home because the father, a small-town butcher, has no money to come get the child.
He and Calderon also have a 7-year-old son, who lives with the butcher and his parents, Kent said.