3 Guilty in Scheme to Ship Cocaine From Newport to Australia

Times Staff Writer

Three men who found cocaine so plentiful that they planned to export it from Newport Beach to Australia to maximize profits were convicted Wednesday by a federal jury.

Guilty of conspiracy and cocaine possession are Robert A. Aceto, 45, and Eugene W. Foster, 40, both of Newport Beach, and Edward R. Nigro Jr., 38, of Long Beach.

Nigro, convicted twice before for distributing drugs, faces a possible term of life in prison when U.S. District Judge Alicemarie Stotler sentences him in June.


The U.S. Customs Service also is trying to seize the 59-foot sailboat “High Roller,” based in Newport Beach, which the three planned to use to ship cocaine, the jury found. The vessel is worth $200,000, according to the government.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Thomas J. Umberg, who won the case for the government, said he was pleased with the verdict. Each defendant was convicted of every charge.

Umberg pointed to some unusual drug paraphernalia seized in the case, as he presented his case to the jurors. He mentioned two yellow air tanks normally used by scuba divers, which had been altered to carry drugs. Umberg challenged defense lawyers to provide any other “logical explanation” for them.

The allure of huge profits from the Australian drug market, where cocaine wholesales at eight times more than it does in Newport Beach, brought the three together, prosecutors alleged.

The trio planned extensively for the “High Roller” deal, including an initial shipment by air of several kilograms to provide profits to outfit the boat and cover other advance costs.

One of the initial partners was a drug dealer named “Hugo” who, in fact, was Serge S. Duarte, a U.S. Customs Service special agent operating undercover.

In tape recordings made secretly by investigators and later played for the jury, Foster and “Hugo” laid out their plans. After a taped Jan. 8 conversation, Foster was arrested.

He quickly agreed to help investigators locate his cocaine supplier. Aceto and Charles M. Anderson, who has plead guilty to a single charge in connection with the case, were arrested the same day in Newport Beach.

Anderson then agreed, in turn, to help investigators. In additional taped conversations, Nigro agreed to deliver eight kilograms at a Newport Beach hotel, according to evidence in the case.

Nigro was observed and arrested after he placed a parcel containing cocaine in a car parked on the hotel lot. Authorities sized eight kilograms of cocaine. But Umberg’s task was complicated by a judge’s ruling that agents should have obtained a warrant before searching the bag, thus excluding the evidence from trial.