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Press Release

Defendants Apprehended in International Waters Plead Guilty to Intent to Distribute 720 Kilos of Cocaine

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

COLUMBUS, Ohio – All four defendants charged in a narcotics conspiracy case after being captured in international waters near the Galapagos Islands have pleaded guilty. The co-conspirators were transported to Columbus in September 2017 for federal prosecution after being apprehended with approximately 720 kilograms of cocaine.

The more than 1,584 pounds of cocaine has an approximate street value of $25 million in total.

Benjamin C. Glassman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, Timothy J. Plancon, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Adm. Paul Zukunft announced the pleas.

According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint in this case, Ecuadorian nationals Hernan Emilio Caldas-Estupinan, Oscar Alipio Chila-Mendez, Carlos Alfredo Escobar-Estupinan and Mexican national Jesus Antonio Ramos-Chirino were detected in a dual engine speed boat on August 18 northwest of the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean.

The United States Coast Guard cutter James was dispatched to interdict the vessel in international waters and conduct a Right of Visit boarding. The watercraft had no flag flown, no registration documents, no registration number, homeport or name on the hull of the vessel, no identification of a sailing master and no claim of nationality for the vessel.

As part of its interdiction efforts, the James launched a helicopter and two patrol craft to approach the boat. When the defendants detected the helicopter and patrol craft, they began to jettison numerous packages from the vessel while attempting to flee from the helicopter.

The Coast Guard helicopter fired warning shots in an attempt to halt the flight, and when those warning shots went unheeded, the helicopter employed disabling fire. Once the vessel had been disabled, one of the patrol craft launched from the James took control of the vessel.

Coast Guard personnel collected the 25 packages that had been thrown from the boat and discovered that they contained approximately 720 kilograms of cocaine.

Each of the four defendants pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms of more of cocaine while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, a crime punishable by 10 years to life in prison.

U.S. Attorney Glassman commended the investigation of this case by the DEA and United States Coast Guard, as well as Assistant United States Attorneys David DeVillers and Jonathan Grey, who are prosecuting the case.

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Updated April 26, 2018

Drug Trafficking