Four men were indicted in Tampa on drug trafficking charges after the Coast Guard seized $37 million worth of cocaine during a multinational operation in the Caribbean, federal authorities said.
Linberto Gallardo-Gonzalez, 42, Uriel Julio Tapia, 35, Miguel Vasquez-Barrios, 37, all from Colombia, and Miguel Angel Sori-Ortiz, 41, from the Dominican Republic, were indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday.
Each faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years if convicted, up to a maximum penalty of life in federal prison.
In the early morning hours Jan. 22, a Coast Guard fixed-wing aircraft spotted a 25-foot vessel speeding south of the Dominican Republic with four people on board. The Coast Guard said it detected several suspicious packages and called the British Royal military ship Wave Knight, which launched the Coast Guard helicopter.
The helicopter then chased the vessel and fired warning shots. The four men on board then started tossing packages into the water. The helicopter then fired an object to disable the vessel so that law enforcement officials could board it.
The four were arrested and the cocaine was seized, the Coast Guard said this week.
The men were taken to Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, for prosecution. They appeared before a U.S. magistrate judge to be advised of the charges against them and for a bond hearing. They were detained pending the resolution of the case, federal authorities said Wednesday.
Last year, more than $5 billion worth of drugs were intercepted by the Coast Guard and federal partners, said Lt. Commander Gabe Somma, public affairs officer for the 7th district, which includes Miami.