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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
02/25/2011

Panga boat smugglers sentenced to 60 months in federal prison

Panga boat capsized in heavy surf; 2 illegal aliens drown

SAN DIEGO - A federal judge sentenced two alien smugglers to 60 months in federal prison Friday for their role in a fatal maritime smuggling incident after a 26-foot wooden boat designed to hold eight to 10 people capsized, killing two of the more than 20 illegal aliens and smugglers onboard.

Fernando Figueroa-Rodriquez, 51, and Javier Jimenez-Yucupicio, 45, both Mexican nationals, were sentenced after pleading guilty in August 2010 to bringing in illegal aliens for financial gain resulting in death. The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations.

Both men admitted they were responsible for piloting an overcrowded panga boat launched on a stormy winter night from a Baja, Mexico, fishing village without the proper equipment to make the four-hour journey to San Diego. When a large wave overturned the vessel, the occupants, many of whom could not swim, were thrown into the ocean. Subsequently, a 34-year-old Mexican male and an 18-year-old Guatemalan female drowned.

In addition to the custodial sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Miller ordered Figueroa and Jimenez to serve supervised release for five years following their release from prison.

U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy noted that "the circumstances in this case highlight the inherent dangers of smuggling illegal aliens by panga boat."

"While justice has been served, this case again shows the complete disregard human smugglers have for their clients' welfare and the lengths to which they'll go to make a profit," said Miguel Unzueta, special agent in charge for ICE HSI in San Diego.

"These men crowded their unwitting and ill-prepared clients into a tiny, rickety fishing boat to make a dangerous marine crossing in the middle of the night."

"I hope this conviction drives home to anyone considering an attempt to illegally enter the U.S. by sea the reality that anytime you trust a smuggler, you are putting your life in grave danger," said William Raymond, director of Air Operations for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in San Diego. "The hard work of our partners at the U.S. Attorney's Office helps bring about the kinds of consequences we need to support our efforts to secure the border and stop this kind of illegal activity."

As part of a comprehensive enforcement strategy to combat the rise in maritime smuggling off the San Diego/Baja coastline, the San Diego-area agencies in the Department of Homeland Security established the Maritime Unified Command (MUC) to share enforcement resources. Member agencies include the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection - Border Patrol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection - Office of Air and Marine, and the San Diego Air and Marine Task Force, which is comprised of ICE HSI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Services, the San Diego Harbor Police, and the police departments of Chula Vista, Calif., and Coronado, Calif.

In fiscal year 2010, there were 867 maritime smuggling apprehensions in San Diego, up from 400 in the previous twelve months. So far, in fiscal year 2011, the MUC has made more than 300 maritime-related arrests.