Mexican And Ecuadorian Face 10 Years To Life For Smuggling 3,384 Pounds Of Cocaine Into Caribbean
CHARLOTTE AMALIE –– A Mexican national and an Ecuadorian national each pleaded guilty to trying to smuggle 3,384 pounds of cocaine into the region just minutes before their jury trial was scheduled to begin in St. Thomas, authorities said.
Hector Hernandez Saucedo, of Mexico City and Calixto Tumbaco of Quito pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess 1,535 kilograms (3,384 pounds) of cocaine while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said.
U.S. District Court Judge Curtis V. Gomez remanded each man to official custody pending their sentencing hearing on June 18.
According to court records, on May 10, 2019, while on patrol, a United States Coast Guard patrol aircraft sighted a self-propelled, semi-submersible vessel in international waters approximately 250 nautical miles northwest of Esmeraldas, Ecuador, navigating on a westerly course in a known drug smuggling area.
The vessel was a low profile, semi-submersible with three outboard engines, displaying no indicia of nationality nor markings, and operating without any navigation lights.
The Coast Guard Cutters HAMILTON and RESOLUTION, which were operating approximately 15 nautical miles away from the semi-submersible vessel, diverted in order to investigate the semi-submersible’s activities.
Crew members of the U.S. Coast Guard cutters observed that the semi-submersible was more than eighty percent under the waterline.
Upon their approach, Coast Guard Officers observed that objects were being thrown overboard by one of the semi-submersible’s occupants.
After gaining control of the semisubmersible, Coast Guard Officers took Hector Hernandez Saucedo, Calixto Tumbaco, and Columbian Nationals Mariano Abregon and Freddy Montano Paz into custody.
The semi-submercible vessel was later declared a stateless vessel without nationality and therefore subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.
Coast Guard Officers proceeded to conduct an at-sea space accountability inspection of the vessel.
They located 64 bales of suspected cocaine inside a tunnel area of the vessel. The bales contained brick shaped objects with an estimated weight of 1,535 kilograms.
During interviews, one occupants admitted that the semi-submersible vessel departed Buena Ventura, Columbia approximately three days prior to the Coast Guard interdiction, and that they were destined for Mexico.
On February 11, 2020, Abregon entered a plea of guilty, and on September 12, 2019, Montano Paz also entered a plea guilty.
Each man pleaded guilty to Count One of the Bill of Indictment which charged conspiracy to possess 1,535 kilograms of cocaine while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.
For their convictions, Hernandez Saucedo and Tumbaco face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum of life imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000,000, five years of supervised release, and a special assessment of $100.
This case was investigated by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Coast Guard.
It is prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Delia Smith.