FT. PIERCE, Fla. - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents made arrests this month which dismantled a Cuban smuggling ring in south Florida. Nine individuals were indicted and arrested for participating in an alien smuggling operation following an ICE investigation.
On Oct. 8, a federal grand jury returned a 14-count indictment against nine individuals, charging them with alien smuggling for profit. Following the indictment, ICE special agents in Ft. Pierce on Oct. 15 arrested seven of the nine indicted individuals, which included: Jorge Paula, 46, and his son, Yeniel Paula, 27, both of Port St. Lucie; Juan Carrasco Sr., 60, and his son, Juan Carrasco Jr., 35, both of West Palm Beach; Wamny Amador, 36, of Pembroke Pines; Lazaro Lopez, 42, and Juan Alberto Abreu Perez, 38, both of Miami. Most recently, on Oct. 23, ICE agents arrested Herid Betancourt, 37, of West Palm Beach. A ninth defendant, Jose Guerra, 35, of Pembroke Pines, was arrested by the Pembroke Pines Police Department on Oct. 13 on state drug-related charges, and is awaiting his initial appearance and arraignment on the federal charges. Trial is scheduled for March 1, 2010 before U.S. District Court Judge K. Michael Moore in Ft. Pierce.
According to the charges, in March 2008 ICE special agents initiated an investigation into an alleged alien smuggling organization operating in Port St. Lucie, Fla. In April 2008, ICE agents received information that a large white-hulled vessel with three black engines had been used by the organization to smuggle Cuban nationals from Cuba to Palm Beach County.
According to statements made in open court during the detention hearings, between June and December 2008, members of the organization allegedly made a number of attempts to smuggle Cuban nationals into the United States. More specifically, on June 11, 2008, members of the smuggling organization were observed meeting in Port St. Lucie and traveling to Sandsprit Park in Stuart, Fla. Thereafter, on June 22, 2008, a white powerboat with three black engines was intercepted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) marine interdiction agents. The powerboat contained items that were indicative of an alien smuggling operation. Additionally, that same night, ICE agents observed defendants at the 79th Street boat ramps in Miami.
On July 6, 2008, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted the 35-foot "Renegade" 65 miles southeast of Marathon, Fla., with two smugglers and 11 Cuban nationals on board. The two smugglers were indicted and convicted in U.S. District Court in Key Largo, Fla., and the Cuban nationals were repatriated to Cuba.
Between July and December 2008, ICE and Broward Sheriff's Office, conducted an undercover investigation and obtained evidence that indicated the alien smuggling organization was smuggling Cuban nationals into the United States.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Carmen Lineberger and Diana Acosta are prosecuting this case.