LAWFUEL – Law News Network – R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Rear Admiral David W. Kunkel, Commander of the 7th Coast Guard District, and Jesus Torres, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, announce that five defendants, Yariel Iturriaga-Valdez, Heyter Landin-Hernandez, Ariel Fernandez Alonzo, Jorge Reyes Galindo, and Reynaldo Perez-Toledo, were arrested in the early morning of Thursday, August 17, 2006, on charges of alien smuggling. They were indicted by a Key West grand jury on August 11, 2006 on forty-four (44) counts of alien smuggling and smuggling-related crimes. They made their initial appearance before Magistrate Judge Lurana S. Snow in Key West earlier today.
The Indictment charges the five men with conspiracy to encourage and induce aliens to enter the United States illegally (8 U.S.C. §§ 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv)). In addition, Counts 2 – 5 charge defendants Iturriaga-Valdez, Perez-Toledo, and Fernandez-Alonzo with encouraging and inducing aliens to enter the United States illegally (8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv)). Count 6 charges Iturriaga-Valdez and Perez-Toledo with unauthorized entry into Cuban territorial seas (33 C.F.R. § 107.215(a)). Count 7 charges defendants Iturriaga-Valdez and Landin-Hernandez with encouraging and inducing aliens to enter the United states illegally (8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv)), and Count 8 charges them with unauthorized entry into Cuban territorial seas (33 C.F.R. § 107.215(a)). Counts 9 – 43 charge defendants Iturriaga-Valdez, Reyes Galindo, and Fernandez-Alonzo with encouraging and inducing aliens to enter the United States illegally. Count 44 charges defendant Iturriaga-Valdez with failure to heave to (18 U.S.C. § 2237), and Count 45 charges Iturriaga-Valdez and Reyes Galindo with unauthorized entry into Cuban territorial seas (33 C.F.R. § 107.215(a)). If convicted, the defendants face a maximum statutory penalty of ten years in prison on each count of alien smuggling and unauthorized entry into Cuban territorial seas, and five years in prison on the failure to heave count.
This Indictment is the result of the government’s continuing investigation into South Florida-based alien smuggling operations. The defendants are alleged to have been a part of an alien smuggling organization that attempted to smuggle Cuban migrants into the United States on November 30, 2005, December 27, 2005, and April 26, 2006.
According to documents filed with the Court, on November 30, 2005, the United States Coast Guard interdicted defendants Iturriaga-Valdez and Perez-Toledo on board a thirty-two (32) foot go-fast vessel approximately two (2) nautical miles south of Conch Reef, near Tavernier, Florida. The vessel was headed north in the pre-dawn darkness without navigation lights. After stopping the vessel, the U.S. Coast Guard boarding team discovered four (4) Cuban nationals on board, one of whom was defendant Reyes-Galindo. On the same day, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted a second go-fast vessel in the immediate vicinity of the first go-fast vessel with defendant Fernandez-Alonzo on board. The U.S. Coast Guard subsequently repatriated the four (4) Cuban migrants, including defendant Reyes Galindo, to Cuba. These events form the basis for Counts 2 – 6 of the Indictment.
Counts 7 and 8 charge defendants Iturriaga-Valdez and Landin-Hernandez in connection with the December 27, 2005 failed smuggling venture of migrant Reyes-Galindo. According to documents filed with the Court, the Coast Guard successfully intercepted defendants Iturriaga-Valdez and Landin-Hernandez on board a thirty (30) foot go-fast vessel approximately ten (10) nautical miles south of Bahia Honda, Florida. During this boarding, the U.S. Coast Guard discovered one (1) Cuban migrant on board, defendant Reyes Galindo, and a handheld Global Positioning System (“GPS”). A search of the GPS unit revealed that the smugglers traveled to the Cuban coast and ventured into an interior location in Cuba near Villa Clara and Cienfuegos provinces on December 25, 2005. The U.S. Coast Guard again repatriated defendant Reyes-Galindo, to Cuba.
On March 31, 2006, defendant Reyes-Galindo landed on Big Pine Key, Florida with two (2) other Cuban aliens under circumstances unknown to the Government.
Once Reyes-Galindo successfully entered the United States, the organization employed Reyes-Galindo as vessel operator on a subsequent alien smuggling venture in April, 2006. According to court documents, on April 26, 2006, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Nunivak intercepted defendants Reyes-Galindo and Iturriaga-Valdez operating a thirty-two (32) foot go-fast vessel with thirty-five (35) Cuban migrants on board. The vessel was located in the vicinity of the Cay Sal Banks and was headed northbound. The Nunivak pursued the vessel during the night of April 26-27, 2006, repeatedly directing defendants Reyes-Galindo and Iturriaga-Valdez to stop their vessel. The largely overloaded vessel refused to stop even though it was taking large waves over the bow and many of its passengers were small children. After an eight hour chase, the U.S. Coast Guard was forced to employ warning shots and disabling fire to stop the vessel. No one was injured, and the Cuban migrants were removed safely from the vessel. Defendants Iturriaga-Valdez, Reyes-Galindo, and Fernandez-Alonzo are charged in Counts 9 – 43 in connection with this smuggling attempt.
United States Attorney Acosta stated, “Time and time again, I have stated that the U.S. Attorney’s Office and its law enforcement partners would continue to investigate alien smuggling ventures with an eye towards prosecuting not just the smugglers and the vessel operators, but also those who organized and financed these operations. Today, we have done just that. This Indictment focuses on those who organized, coordinated, arranged, and financed these human smuggling trips. We remain resolute in our commitment to stop human smuggling.”
“The successful indictment and arrest of these alien smugglers is an excellent example of federal, state, and local partners working together to stop human smuggling operations and hold those accountable who organize, finance and operate them. Human smuggling operations pose a significant threat to the health and safety of the migrants and the security of our borders. The Coast Guard is committed to stopping human smuggling and will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to pressure human smuggling operations out of business” said Rear Adm. David W. Kunkel, commander, Seventh Coast Guard District.
“Smugglers demonstrate a callous disregard for human life,” said Jesus Torres, Special Agent in Charge for ICE investigations in Miami. “These men are not liberators. They are criminals who line their pockets by putting the lives of many at risk through their dangerous and illegal ventures.”
Mr. Acosta commended the investigative efforts of the United States Cost Guard and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaime Raich.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.