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Enforcement and Removal

7 charged in alien smuggling operation that resulted in the death of a Cuban national

MIAMI - Seven Florida residents were arrested on Friday on charges of conspiracy to smuggle aliens into the United States, resulting in the death of a Cuban National following a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) joint investigation with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Coast Guard.

"Targeting smugglers who prey on human beings and use our maritime borders for their deadly ventures is a top priority for ICE," said Anthony Mangione, Special Agent in Charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Miami. "Alien smugglers have a callous disregard for human life. Their goal is to profit at the expense of others. We will continue to aggressively investigate these smugglers and work with our law enforcement partners to deter public safety threats at sea."

Arrested and charged were defendants Elieten Mendoza Zaldivar, 35, of Miami, Alexis V. Cervantes, 34, of Tamarac, Reynaldo Crespo Marquez, 29, of Hialeah, Humberto Carrazana, 25, of Hialeah, Arley Ceballo Gonzalez, 31, of Miami, Brainer Gomez, 26, of Carol City, and Michel Lopez, 30, of Hialeah. If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

According to the criminal complaint filed in court, on September 23, 2008, a Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Branch aircraft detected a smuggling vessel with numerous passengers on board. Tied alongside the smuggling vessel were two other vessels that appeared to be refueling the smuggling vessel. The three vessels then started moving toward the Northwest. The smuggling vessel was bouncing violently as it traveled at a speed of 20 to 30 knots. The Coast Guard interdicted all three vessels.

Defendants Mendoza Zaldivar and Cervantes, and 31 Cuban nationals were onboard the smuggling vessel. Defendants Crespo Marquez, Carrazana, Ceballo Gonzalez, Gomez and Lopez were onboard the refueling vessels. Onboard the smuggling vessel, the Coast Guard boarding team located a male who had sustained a severe head injury. He was unconscious and bleeding. Coast Guard personnel immediately rendered first aid and CPR. A MEDEVAC helicopter transported the injured Cuban National to an air station, where he was pronounced dead.

United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida R. Alexander Acosta commended the cooperation and investigative efforts of the 7th Coast Guard District, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The case is being handled by AUSA Cristina Soto and Coast Guard SAUSA Russ Brown.