Colombian national pleads guilty to role in smuggling cocaine onto Duke Field
PENSACOLA — A Colombian foreign national has pleaded guilty to his role in assisting two former green berets smuggle cocaine onto Duke Field in a punching bag.
Gustavo Adolfo Pareja, 26, of Cali, Colombia, pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy to import 50 kilograms of cocaine for distribution in the United States, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida. Pareja was extradited by the district office last month following an extensive investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
By pleading guilty to the two federal drug trafficking conspiracy charges, Pareja admits he was involved in an international conspiracy with co-defendants Daniel Gould and Henry Royer, the release said.
Between January and August 2018, Gould, a former U.S. Army master sergeant assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Eglin Air Force Base, conspired with Royer, formerly of the U.S. Army and Army National Guard, to distribute large amounts of cocaine with assistance from Pareja.
The conspiracy began in early 2018 when Gould and Royer initially imported 10 kilograms, about 22 pounds, of cocaine into the United States, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Royer traveled to Colombia with U.S. currency to use as payment. Gould placed the cocaine in a gutted punching bag and had the package transported to the Colombian capitol city of Bogota to be placed on a U.S. military aircraft.
A few days later, the cocaine-filled punching bag arrived at Duke Field, an auxiliary airfield of Eglin Air Force Base. Gould and Royer sold the cocaine to a third party and it was subsequently distributed across Northwest Florida.
Gould and Royer then reinvested the money from the cocaine sale into a second load of 40 kilograms of cocaine. Gould placed about $65,000 in cash on a United States military cargo aircraft destined for Colombia as payment for the next purchase.
In August 2018, Gould and Royer returned to Colombia and provided the money to Pareja, their supplier, in exchange for the cocaine. Gould and Royer loaded the drugs into two gutted punching bags and coordinated for the bags to be transported to the U.S. embassy before they flew back to the States.
However, X-ray scans of the bags conducted at the embassy revealed the cocaine, and the drugs were seized. Officials have estimated the cocaine's street value at $1 million.
Gould and Royer ultimately pleaded guilty to their involvement in the criminal activity and are currently serving nine-year sentences in federal prison.
Gould, of Crestview, lost his Special Forces certification and was separated from the Army. Royer, of Fayetteville, North Carolina, was a former West Virginia National Guard Special Forces soldier. He also was separated from the military.
Pareja awaited international extradition for more than a year before Colombian authorities relinquished him to the U.S. Marshals Service. He was brought to the United States in October 2020 to face the charges against him. Pareja faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and could face up to life in federal prison.
His sentencing hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 28, 2021, before Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola.
In a statement, Lawrence Keefe, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Florida, said, "There is no better example of North Florida law enforcers uniting against drug traffickers than this case. Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies worked tirelessly to investigate and prosecute all of the conspirators attempting to flood North Florida communities with large amounts of cocaine for personal profit. Extraditing Pareja and holding him accountable here in the United States sends a clear message that if you traffic drugs in our district, we will come for you no matter how far away you are.”
This case resulted from an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program. Assistant United States Attorney David L. Goldberg is prosecuting the case.