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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, February 11, 2022

Suspected Ecuadorian Drug Trafficker Extradited to San Diego for Conspiracy to Distribute Cocaine

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Mellor (619) 546-9733 and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole Bredariol (619) 546-8419

NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – February 11, 2022                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

SAN DIEGO – Pedro Cornelio Pilligua Iduarte, the owner of multiple Ecuadorian flagged vessels which allegedly provided logistical support to drug laden vessels, was extradited to the United States from Spain yesterday.

On March 19, 2021, a federal grand jury sitting in the Southern District of California returned an indictment charging Pilligua Iduarte, and others, with participating in a long-running conspiracy to traffic substantial quantities of cocaine from South America to the United States.

An Ecuadorian national, Pilligua Iduarte was apprehended by Spanish authorities in April 2021 while visiting Madrid. He arrived in San Diego on February 11, 2021, and made his initial appearance today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernard G. Skomal. He is scheduled for a detention hearing before Judge Skomal on February 17, 2022, at 1:30 p.m.

This case is part of Operation Pangeros Locos, a multi-year investigation led by Homeland Security Investigations, along with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Customs and Border Protection, and United States Coast Guard Investigative Service and has had a significant impact on drug distribution from source countries in South America.

According to court documents, several Ecuadorian fishing vessels, based in Manta, Ecuador, have operated with impunity while providing material support to drug laden vessels to allow them to transport tons of cocaine over thousands of nautical miles of open ocean from Ecuador and Colombia to Mexico, for eventual distribution to the United States. These fishing vessels provide fuel, replacement parts, communication devices, or anything else needed to help the drug laden vessels complete their thousand-mile journey trafficking metric tons of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico. Without the support provided by the fishing vessel captains and owners, these drug laden vessels, typically pangas or low-profile vessels, would not be able to complete this long journey. This investigation has resulted in the seizure of more than 50,000 kilograms of cocaine, the indictment of 27 fishing vessel captains and owners, and the prosecution of 65 cocaine boat crewmembers.

“The Department of Justice appreciates the cooperation of the Spanish authorities in this matter. With the assistance of our law enforcement colleagues at home and around the world, we will aggressively pursue every avenue available in bringing drug traffickers to justice,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. Grossman thanked the prosecution team and  San Diego Strike Force agents, led by Homeland Security Investigations as well as representatives from DEA, FBI, U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS), and Customs and Border Protection for their excellent work on this case.

“This extradition sends a resounding message to drug traffickers around the world that the United States law enforcement community will vehemently pursue those who seek to harm Americans with their deadly drugs and violence,” said HSI San Diego Special Agent in Charge Chad Plantz, who further praised the efforts of the San Diego Strike Force for their support and contribution to this criminal investigation and extradition.

“This indictment is a testament to the success of our collaborative efforts to disrupt transnational criminal organizations and prevent illicit drugs from making their way to America,” said Rear Adm. Brian Penoyer, the Eleventh Coast Guard District commander. “It is a privilege to work alongside the dedicated women and men of the Department of Justice and the Southern District of California who play such a crucial role in the successful team effort stopping these organizations. The hard work of our Coast Guard ships and crews in the Eastern Pacific Ocean culminates in indictments like this that dismantle smuggling organizations, put smugglers behind bars, and keep drugs off our streets.”

This prosecution was brought as a part of the Department of Justice’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) Co-located Strike Forces Initiative, which provides for the establishment of permanent multi-agency task force teams that work side-by-side in the same location.  This co-located model enables agents from different agencies to collaborate on intelligence-driven, multi-jurisdictional operations against a continuum of priority targets and their affiliate illicit financial networks.  These prosecutor-led co-located Strike Forces capitalize on the synergy created through the long-term relationships that can be forged by agents, analysts, and prosecutors who remain together over time, and they epitomize the model that has proven most effective in combating organized crime.  The specific mission of the San Diego Strike Force is to target the most significant drug trafficking organizations in Mexico, Central and South America.

OCDETF was established in 1982 to conduct comprehensive, multilevel attacks on major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and is the keystone of the Department of Justice’s drug reduction strategy.  Today, OCDETF combines the resources and expertise of its member federal agencies in cooperation with state and local law enforcement.  The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking organizations, transnational criminal organizations, and money laundering organizations that present a significant threat to the public safety, economic, or national security of the United States.

The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs worked with law enforcement partners in Spain to secure the arrest of Pilligua Iduarte and his extradition to the United States.

The United States is represented in court by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joshua Mellor and Nicole Bredariol.

The public is reminded that an indictment is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. 

Defendant Information

Defendant                                                                   Criminal Case No: 21-cr-0896-JLS

Defendant Number

Name

Age

Hometown

2

Pedro Cornelio Pilligua Iduarte

aka Don Pedro, aka Corne, aka P, aka Patron, aka Jefe

48

Manabi, Ecuador

Summary Of Charges

International Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substances, in violation of Title 21 U.S.C. §§ 959, 960 and 963. Term of custody including a mandatory minimum 10 years and up to life imprisonment, $10 million fine.

Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute Cocaine on Board a Vessel, in violation of Title 46 U.S.C. §§ 70503, and 70506. Term of custody including a mandatory minimum 10 years and up to life imprisonment, $10 million fine.

AGENCIES

Homeland Security Investigations

Drug Enforcement Administration

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Customs and Border Protection

United States Coast Guard Investigative Service

Policia Nacional del Ecuador

Policia Nacional de Colombia

United States Marshals Service

Department of Justice, Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces

Department of Justice, Office of Enforcement Operations

Department of Justice, Office of International Affairs

Topic(s): 
Drug Trafficking
Press Release Number: 
CAS22-0211-Pilligua
Updated February 11, 2022