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Four Drug Smugglers Arraigned On Charges Of Bringing 3,384 Pounds Of Cocaine To Region

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Three South Americans and one Central American were charged in federal court today with drug smuggling in Caribbean waters patrolled by the United States, authorities said.

Freddy Montano Paz, 29, Calixto Tumbaco, 41, Mariano Abregon, 42, and Hector Hernandez Saucedo, 48, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ruth Miller for arraignment and detention hearings on charges of conspiracy to possess and possession of a controlled substance on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said.

At the conclusion of the hearings, Magistrate Miller ordered all four men detained pending trial, according to Shappert.

The Information alleges that Montano Paz, Tumbaco, Abregon and Hernandez Saucedo were all on board a semi-submersible vessel that was intercepted by the United States Coast Guard Hamilton (USCG) cutter while on routine patrol. The USCG crew first sighted the semi-submersible vessel on May 10, 2019, approximately 250 nautical miles northwest of Esmeraldes, Ecuador.

The vessel did not display any indicia indicating its nationality. After being detected, the four occupants — two Columbian nationals, one Ecuadorian national, and one Mexican national — began tossing the bales of suspected narcotics overboard their vessel.

The USCG disabled the semi-submersible vessel, and successfully seized 40 bales of suspected narcotics, including bales that were tossed overboard. The 40 recovered bales contained approximately 1,535 kilograms of a white powdery substance that field tested positive for cocaine.

This case is being investigated by the USCG and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Delia Smith.

Shappert said a criminal information is merely a formal charging document and is not in and of itself evidence of guilt.

“Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless found guilty,” she said.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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