Six Members of Cuban Smuggling Ring Arrested and Indicted
|U.S. Attorney’s Office December 09, 2009|
Jeffrey H. Sloman, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Anthony V. Mangione, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Office of Investigations, announced the dismantling of a Cuban smuggling ring operating out of South Florida.
In March 2008, ICE special agents, along with the USCG Investigative Service in Miami and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agents, initiated an investigation into Miguel Bernal, who had been identified as an alleged organizer for a Cuban alien smuggling organization operating out of south Florida. In March 2008, ICE agents received information that Bernal wanted to smuggle Cuban nationals from Cuba into South Florida.
As a result of the resulting investigation, on November 5, 2009, a federal grand jury returned a one-count Indictment charging Miguel Bernal, 60, of Cooper City, and five members of his organization, Frankley Ortiz, 37, of Hialeah; Lazaro Garcia, 52, of Hialeah; Maikel Perez Tarajano, 33, of Miami; Jose Aguila Gomez, 46, of Miami; and Osmel Echevarria Hernandez, 29, of Miami, with conspiracy to smuggle aliens into the United States, in violation of Title 8, United States Code, Section 1324. The Indictment alleges that members of the organization conspired to smuggle approximately 20 Cuban nationals into the U.S. from Cuba in March 2008.
On December 3, 2009, ICE special agents arrested four of the six individuals charged in the indictment, including Miguel Bernal, Frankley Ortiz, Lazaro Garcia and Osmel Echevarria Hernandez at various locations throughout Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Most recently, on December 8, 2009, ICE special agents arrested Maikel Perez Tarajano in Miami. Defendant Jose Aguila Gomez is presently incarcerated on unrelated criminal state charges and is awaiting his initial appearance and arraignment on the federal charges.
Acting U.S. Attorney Jeffrey H. Sloman stated, “Human smugglers risk the lives of their passengers, using overcrowded boats and eluding capture at the expense of personal safety. Smugglers have no regard for the well-being and safety of their passengers, but care only about their profits. We will continue to vigorously prosecute these cases.”
“ICE human smuggling investigations and the partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Department of Homeland Security partners has lead to the increase in human smuggling arrests and prosecutions in South Florida,” said Anthony V. Mangione, Special Agent in Charge of ICE’s Office of Investigations in Miami. “The increase in human smuggling pleas, stiffer prison sentences and the constant pressure on human smuggling organizations in the Florida Keys has alerted smugglers that the government means business when identifying, arresting and prosecuting them.”
As a result of these efforts, the number of indictments for maritime smuggling in calendar year 2008 increased to 125 with 217 defendants, far exceeding the numbers in the years 2006 and 2007. In calendar year 2006, the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida indicted 35 maritime alien smuggling cases with 61 defendants. In 2007, there were 60 indictments with 113 defendants. In calendar year 2009, as of December 9, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida indicted 49 maritime alien smuggling related cases with 80 defendants.
Acting U.S Attorney Sloman commended the continued cooperation and investigative efforts of ICE’s Office of Investigations in Miami, USCG, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Field Operations, Office of Air and Marine, the U.S. Border Patrol, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Styron.
An Indictment is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
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 United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.