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Press Release


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

St. Thomas, VI – United States Attorney Delia L. Smith announced today that Nestor Vera Escalante of Ecuador was sentenced to 70 months incarceration before Chief District Judge Robert A. Molloy on his conviction of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States after pleading guilty on February 28, 2023.

According to court documents, on July 12, 2021, while on routine patrol, the United States Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk intercepted a low-profile vessel located 125 nautical miles south, southwest of Isla De Molpelo, Colombia. The vessel was in international waters and displayed no signs of nationality. The vessel also exhibited suspicious factors including the low-profile construction, no navigation lights, and operation in a known drug vector. The vessel was later determined to be without nationality, thus subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Upon inspection of the low-profile vessel, Escalante, Jairo Riascos Preciado and Inocencio Espana Castillo, both of Columbia, were found onboard. Also found onboard were 793 kilograms of cocaine inside the hull of the vessel. Preciado and Castillo pleaded guilty on February 13, 2023, and Preciado was sentenced on July 7, 2023, to 100 months incarceration. Castillo awaits sentencing.

This case was investigated by the United States Coast Guard, Homeland Security Investigations and Drug Enforcement Administration and prosecuted by United States Attorney Delia L. Smith and Assistant United States Attorney Natasha Baker. 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 November 7, 2023

Drug Trafficking