Reality Check: International drug smugglers kept in Mobile

(WPMI) Reality Check: International drug smugglers kept in Mobile
(WPMI) Reality Check: International drug smugglers kept in Mobile

Drug smuggling suspects captured from as far away as the Pacific ocean by the U.S. Coast Guard are being housed in our local jails and prosecuted right here in Mobile.

Defense attorneys question the aggressive enforcement and the cost of it all to taxpayers.

In this Reality Check NBC 15's Andrea Ramey shines a light on those concerns.

With guns drawn, U.S. Coast Guard members stopped a 25-foot boat on the high seas. Three suspects, all Colombians, surrendered with their hands up.

Moments before surveillance video captured those same suspects dumping kilos of cocaine out of the boat.

This didn't happen any where near the shores of the United States.

It happened in the Pacific ocean near the country of Panama.

"I was stunned. I was like we can do this?" said attorney Dom Soto.

One of those suspects, 58-year-old Teofilo Ruiz-Murillo, eventually wound up thousands of miles away in Mobile Metro Jail, prosecuted in the federal courthouse downtown.

"They had no connection, not just to Mobile, but they had no connection to the United States," Soto said. "They weren't even headed this way."

But federal law allows the Department of Justice to assign these international cases to any federal district court.

Soto is appealing a separate case of someone seen here in video being captured by the Coast Guard near the Dominican Republic.

"These guys are getting 10- and 20-year sentences," Soto said.

"I think it's ridiculous," said attorney Jeff Deen.

Deen right now is defending a Columbian the Coast Guard captured in another boat this summer in the Pacific ocean. His client is currently in an Escambia County, Alabama jail awaiting court.

"Just think how much it's costing to put a peasant from Columbia in jail for years that you have to pay for," said Deen.

According the government, it costs more than $30,000 a year to house a federal inmate. Money these attorneys say could be better used.

"That money that you're spending housing this guy for 10 to 24 years make some kind of program with those governments and when we return this guy you're prosecuting him," said Soto.

The courts have found these arrests are constitutional.

We've covered numerous drug busts by the Coast Guard over the past few years.

The Coast Guard website says it accounts for more than half of all U.S. government drug seizures of cocaine each year.

According to its annual performance report, the Coast Guard recovered almost 224 metric tons of cocaine in 2017.

For reference, that's the weight of about 100 cars.