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Federal Drug Charges Out of Tampa for International Drug Bust

In a scenario all too familiar to Tampa Bay area criminal defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand, the U.S. Attorney's office has announced federal drug charges against four Colombian nationals related to a drug bust at sea. A federal grand jury has indicted Colombians Dean Aureo Bush Amaya, Bryan Borden Elvis Presley, Eduardo Alfonso Torres, and Jose Arle Rojas Becerra with conspiracy and possession of more than five kilograms of cocaine while aboard a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S.

According to authorities, the British Royal Navy frigate Iron Duke interdicted a "go-fast" boat off the coast of Venezuela on July 17, 2009. A British helicopter was launched from the frigate along with a small boat containing a Miami-based U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Boarding Team.

The government alleges that the defendants began throwing bales of cocaine overboard. They recovered thirty-six bales with than 700 kilograms of cocaine.

The task force was a joint effort between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the United States Coast Guard, the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. They target Colombian maritime smuggling organizations responsible for cocaine trafficking throughout the Caribbean to the United States for distribution.

All of the defendants are being detained with no bond. If convicted, each faces a minimum of ten years in federal prison and a maximum sentence of life. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Back in 2004, Bjorn Brunvand represented the captain of another freighter interdicted by the Iron Duke and the same task force. That freighter, the Yalta, was manned by Lithuanian and Ukrainian sailors. Authorities seized almost four tons of cocaine from the Yalta. Sixteen Lithuanian and Ukrainian crew members were charged and held for almost a year. All went to trial and not a single one was convicted. The single Colombian on board pleaded guilty and testified against the crew.

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