International cocaine trafficker sentenced to 15 years in prison

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Protection's Marine Interdiction Unit seized a boat containing over 300 kilos of cocaine in Florida in 2018. The Justice Department on Thursday sentenced one of the smugglers in that operation to 15 years in prison. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

May 16 (UPI) -- A federal judge on Thursday sentenced a Dominican foreign national to 15 years in prison for participating in an international conspiracy to smuggle hundreds of kilos of cocaine into the United States.

Cesar Gomez Almonte participated in a drug trafficking network based in the Dominican Republic that transported South American cocaine through the Caribbean, to the United States, according to the Department of Justice.

The operation used various vessels such as yachts and sport fishing boats to transport the narcotics. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Marine Interdiction Unit in November 2018 intercepted one of these vessels, the Casablanca, as it entered U.S. waters near Key Biscayne, Fla.

CBP officers boarded the vessel and found more than 327 kilos of cocaine.

Gomez Almonte, who was active between October 2016 and May 2019, had several roles in the conspiracy, including locating and purchasing vessels such as the Casablanca to transport the drugs, according to the Justice Department.

He also attempted to change ownership of one of the boats -- which was used in another voyage to transport about 500 kilos of cocaine -- from one straw purchaser to another to disguise the true owners of the boat.

Gomez Almonte was arrested in December 2020 at Miami International Airport.

A federal jury convicted him in November 2023 of conspiracy to import five kilograms or more of cocaine into the United States.

The Justice Department in April sentenced another Dominican national, Lazaro Viton Rodriguez, to 13 years and one month in prison for his role in the same drug smuggling conspiracy.

Rodriguez, who the Justice Department said was active from 2014 through May 2019, also was responsible for purchasing, registering and maintaining vessels used in the conspiracy.