PENSACOLA — Two former U.S. Army Green Berets, including one who had been assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Eglin Air Force Base, were sentenced to nine years in federal prison Tuesday after pleading guilty to two counts of cocaine trafficking conspiracy.
Their scheme unraveled in August, when two hollowed-out punching bags bound for a military flight from Colombia to Eglin Air Force Base were intercepted at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota and found to contain more than 80 pounds of cocaine, with a street value estimated at more than $1 million.
Former Master Sgt. Daniel J. Gould, 36, of Crestview, who had served with 7th Group prior to losing his Special Forces certification and being separated from the Army in December, was sentenced Tuesday afternoon by Senior Judge Roger Vinson. Earlier in the day, Vinson sentenced former Sgt. 1st Class Henry Royer, 36, of Fayetteville, North Carolina, and a former West Virginia National Guard Special Forces soldier, in U.S. District Court in Pensacola. Royer had also been separated from the Army in December.
A third co-defendant in the case, 25-year-old Gustavo A. Pareja of Colombia, is awaiting extradition to the United States to stand trial in Pensacola, according to a Tuesday news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Florida.
Gould and Royer had initially pleaded not guilty, but Gould entered a guilty plea in December, and Royer did the same in February.
Prior to the August discovery of the cocaine-laden punching bags, Gould and Royer had succeeded in smuggling more than 20 pounds of cocaine aboard a military flight from Colombia to Duke Field, an auxiliary Eglin AFB airfield near Crestview, close to the 7th Group compound. That cocaine also was smuggled in a hollowed-out punching bag, was sold to a third party, and subsequently distributed across Northwest Florida. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Gould subsequently placed $65,000 in cash from that sale aboard a military aircraft bound for Colombia, and he and Royer used that money in the purchase of the more than 80 pounds of cocaine intercepted at the U.S. Embassy.
Colombia is part of the 7th Group's area of responsibility, but Gould was not on duty when the cocaine smuggling scheme was discovered. When the 80 pounds of cocaine were discovered at the U.S. Embassy, Gould was in this country awaiting its arrival, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The charges against Gould and Royer were the result of an investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program.