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Nine charged with immigrant smuggling by boat

July 15, 2011 |  1:31 pm

Nine people have been charged in connection with three separate maritime smuggling incidents along the Southern California coast within the last month, federal authorities said Friday.

Among those charged in federal court were four people who were detained after their boat capsized Tuesday along the shore at Crystal Cove State Park, near Newport Beach in Orange County, authorities said.

In all, 14 people, all from Mexico, were detained in that incident; another person escaped and remains at large.

Those arrested and charged Wednesday were Ezequial Mendez-Garcia, 37, the vessel’s captain; David Moises Valderama-Acuna, 41, an assistant; and Trinidad Valderama-Acuna, 33, the navigator.

Israel Septimo-Rubio, 39, was charged with illegal entry after investigators determined he was arrested less than two weeks earlier following his arrival in another smuggling boat.
All four appeared in federal court Wednesday.
“Maritime smuggling poses a significant threat to public safety, and prosecutions like these make it clear that there are serious consequences for those who put themselves and others in harm’s way,” U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said in a prepared statement.

Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles, called such incidents "chilling."

“The smugglers are putting unsuspecting people into rickety, overloaded fishing boats and transporting them up to 100 miles out to sea in the dead of night, often without even basic safety or navigation equipment," Arnold said in a statement.

This week’s incident came two days after 15 immigrants from Mexico were rescued from Santa Cruz Island, where they had been abandoned by a smuggler, authorities said.

One of the rescued, Fernando Ivan Torres-Quinonez, has been charged with alien smuggling.

According to the case affidavit, he was to receive $100 for each immigrant he helped smuggle into the U.S. He made his initial appearance in federal court in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, federal authorities have filed charged against four people suspected of smuggling about 500 pounds of marijuana after their pleasure boat was stopped by agents June 9 off the coast of Dana Point. All the men were Mexican nationals.

The criminal charges are the result of ongoing enforcement efforts by the Department of Homeland Security-led Maritime Unified Command to target ocean-based smuggling activity.


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-- Carlos Lozano

Photo: People examine the overturned boat. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times.