A jury in a San Diego courtroom Tuesday convicted three South American men of trafficking $28 million worth of cocaine by sea.
The Office of the United States Attorney Southern District of California, Robert S. Brewer Jr., confirmed the jury’s decision in the drug bust case involving Adrian Andres Cortez-Quinones, 24, and Victor Gaspar-Chichande, 29, both of Ecuador, and Segundo Marcial Dominguez-Caicedo, 35, of Colombia.
After a weeklong trial, the jury reached a guilty verdict. The men are each set to be sentenced on July 15, 2019, before U.S. District Judge Roger T. Benitez in San Diego.
According to federal prosecutors, the trio was caught smuggling 2,706 pounds of cocaine on Dec. 31, 2017, in a small boat traveling in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
Brewer’s office said a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter crew spotted the suspicious boat about 100 nautical miles north of the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. U.S. Coast Guard officials launched a helicopter and two small boats to intercept the vessel.
According to prosecutors, as the Coast Guard’s chopper closed in on the smuggling suspects, the men stopped their boat to avoid detection. As the chopper circled the boat, the defendants tried to flee but couldn’t.
When they realized they weren’t going to outrun Coast Guard officials, Cortez-Quinones, Gaspar-Chichande, and Dominguez-Caicedo, stopped their boat again and began throwing dozens of bundles of cocaine overboard.
A photo presented to the jury during the trio’s trial showed the moment when they threw the drugs into the ocean.
After this, prosecutors said the men tried to flee again but a Coast Guard marksman aboard the hovering helicopter was able to disable the boat’s engines.
Coast Guard officials were able to detain the men and recover the cocaine they had launched overboard. The men were brought to the U.S. and turned over to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Cortez-Quinones, Gaspar-Chichande, and Dominguez-Caicedo were each charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine onboard a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, as well as possession with the intent to distribute cocaine onboard a vessel.
Brewer’s office said Wednesday the maximum penalty for the charges is life in prison, plus a $10 million fine.
“The high seas are not a secret freeway for narco-traffickers to cross with impunity,” Brewer said in a press release. “This verdict is proof that we are watching, and we will take whatever action necessary to prevent these dangerous drugs from hitting our streets. I appreciate the efforts of prosecutors Kevin Mokhtari, Ari Fitzwater and Emily Gibbons and our partners at the Coast Guard and the DEA. Their hard work has led to this outcome.”
Eleventh Coast Guard District Commander, Rear Admiral Peter W. Gautier said this drug bust is “just one example of the thousands of kilograms of narcotics seized every month by the Coast Guard.”
In addition to the U.S. Coast Guard and DEA, this case was investigated by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, which brings together several federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in an effort to dismantle and prosecute high-level members of drug and weapons trafficking.