The mate of an international transport vessel aboard which federal authorities at the Port of Philadelphia seized a record 20 tonnes of cocaine in 2019 is expected to be paid more than $ 1 million for overseeing the smuggling effort, have said federal prosecutors.
The disclosure – a rare glimpse into the economy behind what customs officials described as one of the largest drug seizures in U.S. history – came on Thursday as a federal judge sentenced Bosko Markovic to seven years in prison instead.
Markovic, 39, of Montenegro, was the oldest crew member aboard MSC Gayane arrested by federal authorities after an investigation that extended from the Packer Avenue marine terminal in the Balkans, to the South American coast and to continental Europe. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges for drug trafficking last year.
And while some of the other seven indicted crew members, many of whom Markovic recruited into the plot while the Gayane was at sea, have since revealed how much money they expected to be paid by Balkan drug traffickers. funding the illicit shipment, all amounts cited in court records – approximately $ 50,000 to $ 60,000 per participant – were significantly less than the wages offered by Markovic.
“His role was necessary,” said Deputy US Attorney Jerome Maiatico. “A smuggling plan of this magnitude would probably not have been possible without the [Gayane’s] chief officer in the regime.
Yet, as prosecutors described in court Thursday, the hefty windfall Markovic hoped to receive was nothing compared to the $ 1 billion estimate that U.S. officials say the traffickers behind the The effort could have been made if their cocaine had reached its intended destination: the streets of Europe.
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Speaking to U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III in court, Markovic and his attorney, Benjamin Brait Cooper, told a story similar to those shared by the other members of the Gayane’s crew who have so far been sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to six years. .
Like them, he had grown up in a coastal Montenegrin community known for two main industries – the thousands of crews it supplies to international shipping companies and the violent narcotics gangs that oversee smuggling routes to much of Europe. .
Like four of the others, he says he was approached in the Balkans, even before the Gayane embarked on his 2019 trip by the traffickers seeking to recruit him. The over $ 1 million prize they were offering far exceeded his annual salary by about $ 108,000 per year.
And as the ship’s Mate – responsible, as his lawyer described it, for overseeing “just about everything” relating to the day-to-day operations of the Gayane – Markovic was in a key position to ensure that the loading of the drugs in secret is going as planned. and that the illicit cargo was not detected while the Gayane was moving from port to port.
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Using phones he had received in advance, he coordinated with cocaine suppliers in South America to secretly load the white brick-filled duffel bags of speedboats that approached the Gayane. under cover of darkness at several points in its journey between Panama and the Peruvian Coast.
He recruited other crew members to hide the drugs in shipping containers carrying goods such as wine, vegetable extracts, Chilean dried nuts, scrap metal and other legitimate cargo bound for Europe, Africa and Asia.
But when US authorities intercepted the ship as it entered Philadelphia en route to Rotterdam, the Netherlands, it was Markovic and his teammates who had to pay the price.
“Although Mr. Markovic is the chief officer, his role in the offense was quite similar to that of everyone involved in it,” Cooper said. “He was recruited.
Neither Cooper nor the prosecutors specifically identified by whom.
Although federal authorities have said the investigation into the vendors and financiers behind the smuggling effort is continuing, the details of that investigation remain closely watched.
Until the start of this year, cases against many of Gayane’s crew remained under seal. And one of the men – Vladimir Penda, 28, who is serving a six-year sentence for his involvement – claimed when sentenced in April that he only agreed to participate out of fear that the gangs of Balkans who recruited him could make him or his family if he refused.
When a Montenegrin newspaper falsely reported last year that Penda had agreed to cooperate with the US investigation, his family fled their home fearing reprisals from the traffickers, Penda’s lawyer said at the time.
Markovic also made no mention of the organization that hired him when the time came Thursday for him to address the judge.
Instead, speaking in deep, heavily accented English, he said he regretted his involvement and dreamed of returning to Montenegro after his prison term was over.
“The only thing I have left is hope,” he said. “I hope I can look to the future and see my own family soon – and start my own family.”