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June 2004
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Feds lose cocaine case – 16 go free

This one’s a doozy.
From today’s St. Petersburg Times:

TAMPA – The federal government took a hit Tuesday in its ongoing efforts against overseas drug smuggling.

After a six-week trial involving 16 people from Lithuania and Ukraine accused of smuggling drugs, jurors deliberated for three days and came back with not one guilty verdict. They acquitted 15 of the defendants and couldn’t agree on whether the remaining defendant was guilty.

All 16 were charged with possession of cocaine on a vessel subject to U.S. jurisdiction and could have spent 25 years to life in prison if convicted… The verdict comes nearly a year after the men – crew members of the 500-foot freighter M/V Yalta – were arrested in connection with an apparent attempt to smuggle nearly 4 tons of cocaine.

So they seized a ship with 4 tons of cocaine, but couldn’t get a single conviction? Embarrassing. There was a 17th crew member who pleaded guilty in September and agreed to testify for the Feds … and they still couldn’t get a conviction.
My favorite quote from the article:

“This verdict is a major black eye to the government in their ongoing Panama Express operation,” said Steve Crawford, one of the court-appointed defense attorneys. “The philosophy of ‘Let’s arrest everybody and see if the evidence is there’ lends itself to these kinds of verdicts.”

That’s the philosophy, all right.

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