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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
12/09/2009

6 members of Cuban smuggling ring arrested and indicted

Stepped up law enforcement efforts believed to be a contributing factor in decline of Cuban migration to the U.S.

MIAMI - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents dismantled a Cuban smuggling organization operating out of South Florida.

In March 2008, ICE special agents, along with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Investigative Service in Miami and FBI special agents, initiated an investigation into Miguel Bernal, who had been identified as an alleged organizer for a Cuban alien smuggling organization operating out of south Florida.

In March 2008, ICE special agents received information that Bernal wanted to smuggle Cuban nationals from Cuba into south Florida.

As a result of the investigation, on Nov. 5, a federal grand jury returned a one-count indictment charging Miguel Bernal, 60, of Cooper City, Fla., and five members of his organization with conspiracy to smuggle aliens into the United States. The five members include: Frankley Ortiz, 37, and Lazaro Garcia, 52, both of Hialeah; Maikel Perez Tarajano, 33, Jose Aguila Gomez, 46, and Osmel Echevarria Hernandez, 29, from Miami.

The indictment alleges that organization members conspired to smuggle about 20 Cuban nationals into the U.S. from Cuba in March 2008.

On Dec. 3, ICE special agents arrested four of the six individuals charged in the indictment, including Miguel Bernal, Frankley Ortiz, Lazaro Garcia and Osmel Echevarria Hernandez at various locations throughout Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Most recently, on Dec. 8, ICE special agents arrested Maikel Perez Tarajano in Miami. Jose Aguila Gomez is presently incarcerated on unrelated criminal state charges and is awaiting his initial appearance and arraignment on the federal charges.

"ICE human smuggling investigations and the partnership with the U.S. Attorney's Office and Department of Homeland Security partners has led to the increase in human smuggling arrests and prosecutions in south Florida," said Anthony V. Mangione, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Miami. "The increase in human smuggling pleas, stiffer prison sentences and the constant pressure on human smuggling organizations in the Florida Keys has alerted smugglers that the government means business when identifying, arresting and prosecuting them."

Acting U.S. Attorney Jeffrey H. Sloman stated, "Human smugglers risk the lives of their passengers, using overcrowded boats and eluding capture at the expense of personal safety. Smugglers have no regard for the well-being and safety of their passengers, but care only about their profits. We will continue to vigorously prosecute these cases."

The indictments for maritime smuggling in calendar year 2008 increased to 125 with 217 defendants, far exceeding the numbers in the years 2006 and 2007. In calendar year 2006, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida indicted 35 maritime alien smuggling cases with 61 defendants. In 2007, there were 60 indictments with 113 defendants. In calendar year 2009, as of Dec. 9, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida indicted 49 maritime alien smuggling related cases with 80 defendants.

Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Styron is prosecuting this case.