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Mexican National Convicted in Panga Marijuana Smuggling Attempt in Santa Barbara County

A Mexican national faces up to life in prison after being convicted on federal drug-trafficking charges for attempting to smuggle nearly two tons of marijuana into Santa Barbara County in a panga boat.

Jose Guadalupe Zepeda-Ramirez, 24, of Tecate was accused of piloting a panga that was discovered on March 27, 2015, on a private beach at Hollister Ranch on the Gaviota Coast.

Zepeda-Ramirez and another man — Miguel Rodriguez-Doranme, 39, of La Paz, Mexico — brought the marijuana from Ensenada, Mexico, during a six-day journey, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.

“The men had planned to meet a second crew that would off-load the marijuana for further distribution,” the statement said. “The plan was thwarted when Zepeda-Ramirez and Rodriguez-Doranme were spotted while landing on Alegria Beach.”

The pair were detained by a Hollister Ranch security guard until law enforcement arrived.

The panga — an open-bowed fishing vessel with large outboard motors — was loaded with more than 3,650 pounds of marijuana, officials said.

U.S. District Judge Manuel Real presided over Zepeda-Ramirez’s trial, and is scheduled to sentence him on Sept. 19.

Zepeda-Ramirez faces at least 10 years in federal prison, and could be sentenced to life behind bars, officials said.

Rodriguez-Doranme, who previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy, is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 1 and faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

“Law enforcement is working hard at curtailing the smuggling of drugs on panga boats,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “We will continue enforcement efforts by prosecuting those who engage in this dangerous method of smuggling.”

The investigation was conducted by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the California Highway Patrol and the California National Guard.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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