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Press Release

Three Men Sentenced for Attempting to Smuggle $28 Million of Cocaine on the High Seas

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California

NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – August 23, 2019

SAN DIEGO – Three South American cocaine traffickers were sentenced in federal court this week after being convicted of transporting approximately 1,230 kilograms (2,706 pounds) of cocaine—worth more than $28 million USD—on the high seas.  The sentencing hearings followed a week-long trial in April in which a federal jury convicted all three defendants on all charges.

U.S. District Judge Roger T. Benitez handed down significant custodial sentences for defendants Adrian Andres Cortez-Quinonez, Segundo Marcial Dominguez-Caicedo, and Victor Gaspar-Chichande, sentencing them to 228 months, 216 months, and 160 months, respectively.  Cortez-Quinonez and Gaspar-Chichande were sentenced today; the court handed down Dominguiz-Caicedo’s sentence on Tuesday.

At trial, the United States proved that on December 31, 2017, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Stratton responded to a report of a suspicious go-fast vessel traveling in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, approximately 100 nautical miles north of the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. The Stratton launched a helicopter and two small boats to intercept the vessel.

As the helicopter closed in, the defendants stopped their vessel to avoid detection. But as the helicopter circled the vessel, the defendants took off, and soon a high-speed chase on the high seas ensued.

The defendants eventually brought their vessel to a stop when they could not outrun the Coast Guard helicopter.  Dramatic video from the helicopter captured the defendants jettisoning dozens of bales of cocaine overboard.  The defendants sped away again.  With the go-fast vessel barreling through the high seas, and the helicopter in pursuit, a Coast Guard precision marksman hanging from the side of the helicopter took five shots at the vessel’s engines, disabling the vessel.  Defendants were ultimately detained by the Coast Guard, and other Coast Guard boats recovered the jettisoned cocaine.  After the defendants were transported to the United States, agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration continued the investigation.

“Defendants were not a haphazardly thrown-together motley crew.  They operated a well-oiled machine,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mokhtari at sentencing. “But for the incredible skill, training and acumen of the United States Coast Guard, defendants might well be celebrating a successful cocaine venture.” 

“This prosecution required precision targeting of a speeding vessel during a dramatic high seas chase,” said U.S. Attorney Robert S. Brewer, Jr. “From the capture at sea to the terrific presentation at trial this was the epitome of a team effort and I commend the U.S. Coast Guard, DEA, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mokhtari and our former Coast Guard Special Assistants, Ari Fitzwater and Emily Gibbons” 

“Coast Guard crews who risk their lives interdicting multi-ton shipments of cocaine at sea are gratified to see another successful prosecution of smugglers,” said Rear Adm. Peter W. Gautier, Commander of the 11th Coast Guard District. “I’m proud of what our people on patrol accomplish, and appreciate the U.S. Attorneys who bring these drug traffickers to justice and make Coast Guard actions worthwhile. Together our law enforcement crews at sea, investigators ashore, and prosecutors in courtrooms are working to disrupt the criminal networks behind the deadly flow of illegal drugs that threaten our nation.”   

“These men tried to bring over 24 million dosage units of cocaine into the United States.  That is so much cocaine that the 1.4 million residents of San Diego City each could have gotten over 17 dosages units.  That is crazy.  Cocaine is a dangerous drug and while it was not meant to stay in San Diego, it would have crushed the city had it made it through,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Karen Flowers. “In this case, DEA teamed up with the U.S. Coast Guard and our law enforcement partners to save lives and protect the homeland.  These men wanted to profit off of their greed, with utter disregard for other people’s lives.  Now they will pay for their actions with 13 to 19 years of their lives.”

This case is the result of the ongoing efforts by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a partnership that brings together the combined expertise and unique abilities of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, dismantle and prosecute high-level members of drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and money laundering organizations and enterprises.


DEFENDANTS                                             Case Number 18cr0421-BEN    

Adrian Andres Cortez-Quinonez                Age: 25                                 Ecuador

Segundo Marcial Dominguez-Caicedo      Age: 36                                  Colombia

Victor Gaspar-Chichande                           Age:  30                                 Ecuador


Conspiracy to Distribute Cocaine Onboard a Vessel Subject to the Jurisdiction of the United States – Title 46, U.S.C., Section 70503, 70506(b)

Maximum Penalty: Life in prison and $10 million fine

Possession with Intent to Distribute Cocaine Onboard a Vessel Subject to the Jurisdiction of the United States – Title 46, U.S.C., Section 70503

Maximum Penalty: Life in prison and $10 million fine


U.S. Coast Guard

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF)


Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mokhtari (619) 546-8402,
and former Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ari Fitzwater and Emily Gibbons

Updated August 23, 2019

Drug Trafficking
Press Release Number: CAS19-0823-Cortez-Quinonez