1. News

The Coast Guard seized $569 million worth of drugs. The smugglers will be tried in Tampa Bay.

The Coast Guard stands watch as vessels seized for smuggling drugs are scuttled and sunk into the Pacific Ocean in May. [Coast Guard]
Published Jul. 11

The Coast Guard has seized more than half a billion dollars worth of cocaine in recent months in the Pacific Ocean. Many of the alleged smugglers will stand trial in the Tampa Bay area.

Federal officials said Thursday that about 39,000 pounds of cocaine and 933 pounds of marijuana was seized, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson Carol Danko. The drugs were valued at $569 million.

The Coast Guard seized the drugs over 14 busts in the eastern Pacific Ocean between May and July, Danko said. Guardsmen also detained 55 alleged smugglers.

A significant portion of those seizures — roughly 85 percent of the cocaine — will be used as evidence in cases that will be tried in the U.S. Middle District of Florida in Tampa, said Homeland Security Investigations Tampa Special Agent in Charge James Spero. The Coast Guard, Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Administration all took part in the investigations.

These kinds of seizures happen regularly, Spero said, but he emphasized that they do make a difference.

"That's 39,000 pounds of cocaine that's not going to be poisoning U.S. communities," Spero said.

A majority of the cocaine comes from Central and South America and was on its way to Mexico or other Central American countries via the high seas, Spero said. Then smugglers would likely have tried to smuggle them across the U.S.'s southern border.

One mode of smuggling drugs are semi submersibles or "homemade submarines" designed to move drugs underwater, making it hard for law enforcement to find, Spero said. The technology to detect such vessels is improving, but it's still an ocean, Spero said.

"It's still difficult," Spero said. "It's like looking for a needle in a haystack."

It was not known how many defendants will be tried in federal court in Tampa. But not all of the 55 alleged smugglers will be prosecuted in the U.S., as 23 will be tried in other nations.

"We're starting with disruptions with the ultimate goal of dismantling the organization," Spero said.

Contact Ben Leonard at or (727) 893-8421. Follow @Ben___Leonard.


  1. University of South Florida forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle pieces together a skull that might have been Emelia Earhart's. SANDRA C. ROA  |  University of South Florida
    DNA from a skull found in 1940 could prove whether the famous aviator has been found.
  2. Alexandra Toigo, 32 and Sabrina Pourghassem, 23, pose for a photo at Hofbrauhaus St. Petersburg holding their signature beer mugs during Oktoberfest 2018. "LUIS SANTANA  |  TIMES"  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The beer hall’s property owners filed a lawsuit saying the restaurant missed its rent starting in August.
  3. Port Tampa Bay on Tuesday agreed to sell a half-acre it owns near the Florida Aquarium for $4.7 million to Streams Capital of Tampa, which is looking at building a 33-story condominium and hotel tower. RICHARD DANIELSON | Times
    The buyer, Streams Capital of Tampa, is looking at building a 33-story tower with a hotel, condominiums and retail.
  4. Nearly a year after it was left abandoned and half-sunk off the Tampa side of the Howard Frankland Bridge, a salvage crew finally raised and towed the Moonraker II to the Courtney Campbell boat ramp. It is slated to be crushed. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The boat was an eyesore to those who live off Tampa Bay. Then it became a political statement. Now it’s been towed and will soon be crushed.
  5. Republican Sen. Joe Gruters said Florida consumers are required to pay the sales tax, but rarely do so if online sellers don't collect it.
    The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee unanimously approved the bill Tuesday.
  6. Stephanie Vold, a medical assistant and intake specialist for OnMed, holds the door while Austin White, president and CEO of the company, talks with a nurse practitioner during a demonstration of their new telehealth system at Tampa General Hospital on Tuesday. The hospital is the first to deploy the OnMed station and plans to install them at other locations. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The closet-size “office” with a life-size screen is another example of the changing face of medicine.
  7. A Hernando County Sheriff's deputy talks to students in the cafeteria of Brooksville Elementary School in 2018. Earlier this month, the school district put forward a proposal to move away from a contract with the Sheriff and establish its own police force. On Tuesday, it announced it would drop that idea.
    Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis spoke out this week against the proposal.
  8. Wayne Juhlin was arrested after calling 911 to report his wife's death and is being held in the Sarasota County Jail. Venice Police/Twitter
    Wayne Juhlin told detectives Monday night that he had intended to kill himself, too, but said his gun malfunctioned, and he couldn’t do it.
  9. Students in the Gulf High School class of 2023 show their spirit in a float they created for the annual homecoming parade held Oct. 8 in downtown New Port Richey. Michele Miller
    Annual tradition marches on last week down Grand Boulevard.
  10. Representatives from the Pasco County school district and the United School Employees of Pasco discuss salary and benefits during negotiations on Sept. 18, 2019. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff Writer
    The sides have not set a time to resume discussions on teacher pay.