District Court in Key West Sentences 6 High Seas Criminals

MIAMI – U.S. District Court Judge K. Michael Moore handed down sentences to six defendants pursuant to a guilty verdict at trial and guilty pleas to charges of failure to heave-to, unauthorized entry into Cuban waters and aiding and abetting failure to heave-to, accepted guilty pleas to charges of failure to heave-to, bringing aliens to a place other than a port of entry (migrant smuggling), and presided over a jury trial that convicted a defendant on charges of migrant smuggling and conspiracy to smuggle aliens into the United States, during proceedings held Monday and Tuesday at the Key West Federal Courthouse, Key West, Fla.

The sentences, guilty pleas and convictions all stem from law-enforcement operations and investigations conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection and aggressive prosecution of cases by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Florida. In total, Moore ordered 135 months incarceration, 14 years of supervised release, restitution of $19,132.62 and fines and special assessments of $1,300.

“These prosecutions and sentences demonstrate the resolve of the Coast Guard to rid the seas of the scourge of migrant smuggling,” said Captain James Watson, chief of staff for the Seventh Coast Guard District.  “Furthermore, these sentences hold accountable those criminals who attempted to flee law enforcement on the high seas and recklessly endangered our Coast Guard and agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.”

U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta stated, “The sentences imposed by the Court in these human smuggling ventures send a message to would-be smugglers and profiteers that human smuggling will lead to substantial jail time. Our Office will prosecute individuals who risk human life by disobeying law enforcement’s orders to stop just as aggressively as we prosecute successful human smuggling ventures.”

“These prosecutions clearly send the message that violent criminals engaged in illegal alien smuggling must respect lawful commands to stop on the highways of the sea, just as any law abiding driver would do on a state road, or face jail time and financial penalties,” said Zachary Mann, special agent and spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “The fact they attempted to flee law enforcement, harm our officer and those aboard their vessels tells the public they truly have little or no regard for human life.”

Roberto Hidalgo-Silvera and Reinaldo Aguila-Guerra pled guilty to charges of failure to heave-to for their involvement in an incident Nov. 10, 2006, in which they operated a “go-fast” vessel without navigational lights while five miles south of Key Largo, Fla.  A U.S. Customs and Border Protection boat approached their vessel and activated it’s law enforcement lights, sirens, and deck lights while illuminating the go-fast with a spotlight.  Hidalgo-Silvera and Aguila-Guerra increased the go-fast’s speed to 50 knots and led the Customs and Border Protection agents on a 15 minute chase.  Warning shots and disabling fire were used to try and stop the fleeing go-fast.  The Customs and Border Protection boat was rammed by the go-fast at least three times and a final collision between the boats injured an agent and resulted in the ejection of both Hidalgo-Silvera and Aguila-Guerra.  Hidalgo-Silvera was sentenced to 51 months incarceration, three years supervised release, restitution of $9,566.31 and a $100 special assessment.  Aguila-Guerra was sentenced to 60 months incarceration, three years supervised release, restitution of $9,566.31 and a $100 special assessment.

Modelin Machado pled guilty to to a charge of failure to heave-to and Nelson Reyes was found guilty by trial for failure to heave-to and unauthorized entry into Cuban waters for attempting to flee from the Coast Guard Cutter Matagorda when ordered to heave-to on July 19, 2006 while 11 miles west of Cay Sal Bank, Bahamas.  Machado was sentenced to six months incarceration, a $1,000 fine and three years supervised release.  Reyes was sentenced to 18 months incarcerations, three years supervised release and a $100 special assessment.

Leonel Rives Rodriguez and Hiosvany Leal Reyes pled guilty to a charge of failure to heave-to and are set for sentencing Oct. 1.  Rodriguez and Reyes were operating a go-fast boat and refused to stop their vessel when ordered to do so by the Coast Guard Cutter Key Biscayne on May 5.

Dimeys Sanchez, Jesus Rodriguez, Osmin Vidal and Eddy Gonzalez all pled guilty to conspiracy to smuggle aliens into the United States and bringing aliens to a place other than a port of entry for their involvement with co-conspirator Frank Barrios, the key organizer in a Cuban alien smuggling organization involved in several smuggling runs over an eight month period.

Reinier Hernandez was convicted by a jury for conspiracy to smuggle aliens into the United States and bringing aliens to a place other than a port of entry and is set for sentencing Oct. 1.  Hernandez is also a co-conspirator with Frank Barrios.

Gerardo Tapanes was convicted pursuant to a guilty plea made moments before jury selection for trial on a charge of failure to heave to.  Tapanes was aboard a vessel running without navigational lights Jan. 16, in the Florida Straits, when it was located by a Coast Guard Air Station C-130 aircraft.  The Coast Guard Cutter Tornado intercepted the vessel, illuminated its law enforcement lights, ensign lights, spot light and illumination flares and made radio and loudhailer calls in English and Spanish to order the vessel to stop.  Tapanes’ vessel disregarded all orders to stop and led the cutter on a two hour chase before finally stopping to be boarded.

Ismael Pedrosa and Yoanny Rives were sentenced to time served, one year supervised release and a $100 special assessment pursuant to guilty pleas for failure to heave to and aiding and abetting the failure to heave to, respectively.  The charges stem from a Feb. 26 incident in which the Coast Guard Cutter Knight Island and a small boat from Coast Guard Station Marathon, Marathon, Fla., chased a go-fast vessel in the Florida Straits when the vessel failed to stop when ordered to do so by the U.S. Coast Guard.

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