Two Men Plead Guilty of Bringing Cocaine to the US Via Narco-Subs

Published: 20 December 2023

US Coast Guard Submarine

U.S. Coast Guard members sit atop a seized semi-submersible in international waters. (Photo: NARA, Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, License)

By Henry Pope

A Colombian and a Guatemalan national pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiring to smuggle enormous quantities of cocaine produced by Latin American cartels into the U.S. via semi-submersibles, colloquially known as “narco-subs”.

Nestor Hugo Gomez-Garcia, 38, of Colombia and Eliezer De Leon-Lopez, 38, of Guatemala, pleaded guilty to their role in separate conspiracies that would’ve trafficked a combined 26,000 kilos, or 28.6 tons, of cocaine into the U.S. on behalf of Latin American cartels.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Florida, Gomez-Garcia, a.k.a “Guava,” headed a transnational crime organization that built and operated its own fleet of self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS) vessels, designed specifically for drug trafficking purposes.

His SPSS operation involved no outsourcing made to third party organizations; security, construction of the subs’ fiberglass hulls, recruitment, and logistics were all managed in-house.

Whenever one of his narco-subs set sail north from Colombia, his crews would rendezvous with Sinaloa Cartel members in Oaxaca, Mexico, who would take charge of the load on its journey into the United States.

American authorities intercepted three such shipments in July and August 2015, and March 2016. Prosecutors reported that altogether the three busts weighed more than 19,500 kilograms.

Leon-Lopez, a.k.a. “Wiro Loco,” pleaded guilty to his role in a separate drug trafficking conspiracy, wherein he and his partners acted as middlemen in a chain that transported drugs from the south of Latin America to the United States.

As part of his plea agreement, he admitted that he accepted cocaine shipments off the coast of Guatemala, brought them to shore, and then saw to their transport to Mexico where he would finally hand the drugs off to local cartel members.

Though he retired from actively participating in drug trafficking back in 2017, he continued to  financially benefit from the smuggling operations until his arrest, authorities said.

In November 2018, the El Salvadoran navy captured a narco-sub in international waters and took four Colombians and a Guatemalan national into custody. Onboard was just under 6,500 kilograms of cocaine.

Through intercepted communications, investigators learned of Leon-Lopez’s involvement through contact he maintained with a co-conspirator linked to the shipment.

Both Gomez-Garcia and Leon-Lopez face a minimum mandatory 10 years in federal prison, with the potential for a life sentence. Their respective sentencing dates have yet to be determined.