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Press Release

Ecuadorian National Pleads Guilty To Conspiring To Smuggle Over 1,700 Kilograms Of Cocaine In International Waters

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Florida

Tampa, Florida – United States Attorney Roger B. Handberg announces that Juan Nicolas Pachay Lopez (40, Manta, Ecuador) has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute five kilograms or more of a substance or mixture containing a detectable amount of cocaine, and possession with the intent to distribute five kilograms or more of a substance or mixture containing a detectable amount of cocaine. Pachay Lopez faces a minimum mandatory penalty of 10 years, up to life, in federal prison on each count. A sentencing date has not yet been set.

According to court documents, on or about February 24, 2024, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter MUNRO was on routine patrol in international waters approximately 580 nautical miles southwest of Acapulco, Mexico. A Coast Guard drone encountered an unnamed four-engine go-fast vessel (“GFV”) and began to investigate suspected illicit maritime activity. The drone observed three individuals on board the GFV, which was approximately 40 feet in length with a blue and green hull, with packages and fuel drums on the GFV’s deck. MUNRO’s helicopter arrived on scene and fired several warning shots after the GFV ignored Spanish language commands to stop broadcasted via the helicopter’s loudspeaker and on maritime radio channels.

A small vessel dispatched from MUNRO with a boarding team comprised of Coast Guard law enforcement personnel arrived and gained control of the GFV. Pachay Lopez, a national of Ecuador, was one of the crewmen and was identified as the vessel master. During the boarding, the Coast Guard recovered 33 bales containing an at-sea weight of 1,725 kilograms of cocaine. 

This case was investigated by the United States Coast Guard and the Panama Express Strike Force, a standing Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Strike Force comprised of agents and analysts from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and the U.S. Southern Command's Joint Interagency Task Force South. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney David W.A. Chee.

Updated July 2, 2024

Drug Trafficking