MIAMI - A 62-year-old boat captain has been indicted on charges of smuggling aliens into the United States following a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) led investigation. The incident resulted in six deaths.
Crecencio Hernandez, 62, of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, was arrested on Friday, November 7, on charges of smuggling aliens into the United States for financial gain. If convicted, Hernandez faces a minimum of three years in prison and up to ten years in prison. Hernandez made his initial appearance in federal court earlier today.
According to the criminal complaint filed in court, on October 31, 2008, the Coast Guard received reports that an old wooden vessel, carrying passengers, had run aground on a sandbar off of Virginia Key, near Key Biscayne. Coast Guard officers boarded the vessel, and found 12 Dominican nationals on board. Other passengers, all Brazilian and Dominican nationals, had jumped off the boat in an effort to swim ashore. Some of them made it to shore, but were later apprehended including defendant Hernandez by ICE agents and officers from the U.S. Coast Guard and Border Patrol. Six migrants did not make it, and were found dead.
"ICE strongly discourages people from taking to the seas and attempting to illegally enter the United States," said Anthony V. Mangione, special agent in charge of ICE's Office of Investigations in Miami. "Tragically, many have lost their lives while attempting this illegal and treacherous trip. ICE will continue to aggressively pursue those at every level in the smuggling chain who prey on human beings for their own financial gain."
Of those that were found on the boat and on shore, many identified defendant Hernandez as the captain of the wooden boat. They said that they had paid between $4,000.00 and $15,000.00 to be smuggled into the United States illegally. Hernandez said that he had been given a reduction on the smuggling price he paid in exchange for guiding and navigating the vessel from the Dominican Republic to the United States.
U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta for the Southern District of Florida stated, "The tragedy of human smuggling continues to unfold in South Florida. In this case, six more lives were lost in yet another failed smuggling venture. We will continue to aggressively prosecute these cases in the hopes of deterring would-be smugglers from engaging in future ventures that could result in additional loss of lives."
"Human smuggling is a criminal enterprise that often results in tragic consequences for those who attempt it, said Harold Woodward, director of field operations for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Miami. "Through the collaborative efforts of law enforcement agencies in South Florida, we are preventing these illegal and dangerous operations."
"The Coast Guard and our federal, state and local law enforcement partners remain committed to protecting life at sea and our nation's maritime borders," said Rear Admiral Steve Branham, Seventh Coast Guard District Commander. "All too often, illegal migrant smuggling ventures unnecessarily result in death or serious injury to the migrants. There are safe and legal means to immigrate to the United States."
U.S. Attorney Acosta commended the investigative efforts of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard and the City of Miami Police Department.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Robert Luck.