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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Boat captain pleads guilty to charges of alien smuggling resulting in 6 deaths

MIAMI - A Dominican boat captain pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court here yesterday to alien smuggling that resulted in six migrants losing their lives following a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)-led investigation with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).

Crecencio Hernandez, 63, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to encourage and induce aliens to enter the United States illegally, resulting in six deaths. The alien smuggling charges stem from a Nov. 21, 2008, indictment. Hernandez is scheduled for sentencing on June 19, 2009, at 11:30 a.m.

Hernandez admitted to being the captain of a wooden rustic vessel on Oct. 24, 2008, with more than 40 foreign nationals from the Dominican Republic and Brazil that set off from the coastal city of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic and headed toward Miami. He had agreed with Dominican organizers of the trip to captain the vessel.

The purpose of the trip was to smuggle the passengers into the United States through Miami.

Hernandez admitted that he knew his passengers were not U.S. citizens and nationals and that they did not have permission to enter the United States. During the eight days it took to get to Miami, Hernandez admitted that he steered the vessel, helped navigate the route, directed the crew, and ordered the passengers to maintain calm.

On Oct. 31, 2008, the wooden vessel hit a sandbar off the shore of Virginia Key, in Miami-Dade County, South Florida, and tipped over. Most of the passengers and crew jumped into the water and began swimming for the shore. The weather was windy, the waters were rough, and the passengers, having been at sea for eight days with little water and food, were tired and weak. Six passengers died trying to swim to the shore. Two of the deceased were subsequently identified as Pedro Manuel Portes Paulino, 38, and Danny Rodriguez Hernandez, 33, both of the Dominican Republic. The other four male passengers who drowned could not be identified.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Robert Luck.