Drug smugglers from Ecuador plead guilty

Posted at 4:45 PM, May 31, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-31 19:45:26-04

Four drug smugglers from Ecuador pleaded guilty in San Diego federal court Tuesday to possessing more than 1,100 pounds of cocaine aboard a vessel off the coast of El Salvador.

On Jan. 7, 2015, while on a counter-drug patrol in the eastern Pacific Ocean, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Waesche dispatched a helicopter to investigate a small South American fishing vessel, commonly known as a panga, about 110 nautical miles south of El Salvador.

The helicopter crew found the panga and immediately observed the four defendants throwing bales of cocaine overboard into the water, authorities said.

The Coast Guard helicopter ordered the defendants to stop, but the panga crew tried to flee at a high rate of speed and only stopped when the helicopter crew fired warning shots into the ocean.

The defendants were detained and about 25 bales of cocaine were recovered from the ocean.

Winston Gabriel Valdez-Medina, 25, Miguel Duque Hurtado Simisterra, 52, Leonardo Abad Bueno Saenz, 49, and Jhon Carlos Salos-Garcia, 29, all residents of Ecuador, were then brought to San Diego for prosecution.

"This case represents an important component of the Coast Guard's efforts to combat drug trafficking organizations that are exploiting maritime routes in the eastern Pacific Ocean," said Rear Adm. Joseph A. Servidio, Commander of the Eleventh Coast Guard District. "The Coast Guard will continue its steadfast efforts with our foreign and domestic law enforcement partners to stop the flow of narcotics into this country."