A federal judge in Tampa sentenced Elias Estupinan Rengifo of Colombia to 135 months in federal prison for conspiring with others to possess with intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine on-board vessels subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. He previously pled guilty to the drug charges in October.
Rengifo was charged along with three co-conspirators – Horacio Aguirre Perea, Vicente Aguirre Perea, and Wilson Vallejo, all of Colombia. All three were arrested in Colombia, extradited to the United States, subsequently pled guilty to the same drug conspiracy charge, and were previously sentenced. Horacio Aguirre Perea received a 235 month sentence. Vicente Aguirre Perea was sentenced to 180 months in federal prison. Vallejo was sentenced to 135 months in federal prison.
According to court documents, Rengifo and his co-conspirators participated in an on-going maritime cocaine smuggling organization operating along Colombia’s southern coast between 2005 and 2009. Authorities claim that the group organized multiple cocaine smuggling trips. These trips included two by stateless go-fast vessels interdicted by the United States in the Pacific Ocean on February 19, 2005 and December 2, 2006 as well as two by stateless self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS) vessels interdicted by the United States in the Pacific Ocean on March 1, 2008 and June 16, 2008.
Coast Guard officers seized more than 1,000 kilograms of cocaine from both of the interdicted go-fast vessels. The SPSS vessels were also carrying cocaine, but were scuttled before Coast Guard officers could recover any cocaine. All those aboard the four interdicted vessels were first brought into the United States in the Middle District of Florida.
The case was investigated by the Panama Express Strike Force, a Tampa-based federal task force which runs an international drug interdiction operation. Bjorn Brunvand, although not involved in the Rengifo case, has previously represented other defendants investigated by the Panama Express Strike Force. Just a few years ago, Brunvand obtained an acquittal for a Russian ship captain charged with smuggling cocaine.