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Press Release


For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Virgin Islands

St. Croix, VI – United States Attorney Delia L. Smith announced today that Eliecer Pineda Torres, 52, of Ecuador, pleaded guilty before Magistrate Judge Emile Henderson, III, to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Sentencing for Torres has been scheduled for April 14, 2023.

According to court documents, on November 15, 2021, while on routine patrol in the eastern Pacific Ocean, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) Cutter HAMILTON spotted a 52’ low-profile vessel approximately 77 nautical miles north of the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. The unnamed vessel, outfitted with three outboard engines, had no flag flown or registration number. Onboard the vessel were individuals later identified as Luis Rodriguez, Eliecer Pineda Torres, Carlos Benitez Estupinan and Anthony Cuero Garcia. Neither individual claimed to be master nor nationality of the vessel thereby making the vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. During an inspection of the vessel, USCG crew members found approximately 43 bales of suspected cocaine. A field tests was conducted which yielded positive results for the presence of cocaine. The total weight for the suspected cocaine was approximately 1,298 kilograms. A Drug Enforcement Administration laboratory analysis later concluded that the suspected substance tested positive for cocaine hydrochloride. Defendants Rodriguez of Columbia and Benitez Estupinan and Cuero Garcia of Ecuador also pleaded guilty to cocaine conspiracy. At sentencing, the defendants face a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years of imprisonment and a maximum of life, plus deportation. A federal District Court judge will determine their sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other factors.

This case was investigated by the United States Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection and Drug Enforcement Administration and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Melissa P. Ortiz. This prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.

Updated December 16, 2022

Drug Trafficking