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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

ICE arrests 4 Cubans charged in Fort Myers, Fla., human smuggling ring

Defendants face up to 10 years in prison

Fort Myers, Fla. - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents arrested four Florida residents here today charged with conspiracy to bring aliens into the United States. The charges result from smuggling events that took place Dec. 1, 2007 and April 14, 2008 where a total of 23 Cuban nationals were successfully smuggled into the country.

Raul Rodriguez, 41, of Lehigh Acres; Rene Alba Fernandez, 46, of Cape Coral; and Sergio Abreu Azcuy, 27, of Miami, and Ramon Zambrana, 30, of Charlotte Harbor, Florida were arrested today by ICE agents.

According to the indictment, Rodriguez, Alba-Fernandez, Zambrana and Abreu-Azcuy agreed to bring Cuban nationals into the United States for private financial gain. The indictment also alleges that the December 2007 smuggling venture resulted in the repatriation of 20 Cuban nationals and the federal prosecution and conviction of two Cuban nationals, Jose Bello and Luis Lopez-Cordero, previously paroled into the United States. Bello and Lopez-Cordero were the captain and first mate aboard the smuggling vessel and both pleaded guilty to the charges. Lopez-Cordero was sentenced to 18 months in prison and Bello is awaiting sentencing.

The April 2008 venture resulted in the successful smuggling of 28 Cuban nationals to the United States. According to the indictment, each Cuban national paid $10,000 for the passage to the United States. Members of the smuggling organization used go-fast type vessels as well as refueling vessels.

If convicted, the defendants face a sentence of three to 10 years in prison, a maximum fine of $250,000 and the forfeiture of two vessels, one vehicle and one residence that facilitated the proceeds of the illegal activity.

Rodriguez, Fernandez, and Azcuy made their initial appearance in Ft. Myers federal court this afternoon.

The investigation was conducted by ICE, United States Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Lee County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The case will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jesus M. Casas of the U.S. Attorney's Office Middle District of Florida.

An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of the federal criminal laws, and every defendant is presumed innocent until, and unless, proven guilty.