By Ashley Cox

TAMPA, Fla. (CW44 News At 10)– U.S. District Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell has sentenced seven Venezuelan nationals to federal prison for conspiracy to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine while onboard a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

The seven men senteced are:

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  • Astrubal Quijada Marin for nine years
  • Henry Jose Marquez for eight years
  • Rafael Antonio Querales Grafe for five years and 10 months
  • Juan Carlos Diaz Morales for five years and 10 months
  • Juan Carlos Acosta Hurtado for five years and 10 months
  • Jose Rafael Colina for five years and 10 months
  • Edwin Ramon Marcano Morales for five years and four months

Five of the defendants had pleaded guilty between March and June 2020. Two of the defendants were convicted following bench trials on May 7, 2021.

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According to court documents, the seven defendants were on board the Zumaque Tracer, a 256-foot Cameroon flagged coastal freighter, in the international waters of the Caribbean Sea, on a northwesterly course towards Grand Cayman.

The vessel exhibited multiple signs consistent with drug trafficking and inconsistent with the stated purpose of the voyage. The seven defendants were each aware that they were transporting cocaine intended for distribution.

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In July 2019, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Northland located the Zumaque Tracer and conducted a search of the vessel. The boarding team ultimately located and seized 143 bales containing approximately 4,225 kilograms of cocaine—worth approximately $105 million—concealed in the vessel’s aft wing ballast tanks.