human smugglers convicted of death from maritime contraband in La Jolla | USAO-SDCA

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Deputy Attorneys for the United States Colin M. McDonald (619) 546-9144 and Victor P. White (619) 546-8439

SUMMARY OF THE PRESS RELEASE – December 13, 2021

SAN DIEGO – Victor Alfonso Soto Aguilar and Jose Ramon Geraldo Romero were today sentenced in federal court to 71 and 60 months in prison, respectively, for attempting to smuggle fourteen Mexican citizens into the United States by sea , resulting in the tragic drowning death of a 43-year-old Passenger.

Court records show that on May 19, 2021, Soto Aguilar and Geraldo Romero agreed to ferry a group of undocumented migrants on a panga boat from Ensenada, Mexico, to the shores of La Jolla, Calif., On a distance of almost 100 miles. The smuggling business ran into problems early on. Due to an engine problem, the significantly overloaded panga stalled in the middle of ocean waters. As a result, the group was forced to spend the night in the panga without adequate food or water. Soto Aguilar and Geraldo Romero then dropped their passengers off on an island in the middle of the ocean as they attempted to repair the panga. After making repairs, Soto Aguilar and Geraldo Romero picked up the passengers from the island and proceeded to navigate the panga north towards La Jolla.

On May 20, 2021, in the wee hours of the morning, the panga approached the shores of La Jolla via the beach on rue Marine. When the panga was about eighty meters from shore, Soto Aguilar and Geraldo Romero – unsure if anyone could swim – asked the passengers to take off their life jackets and jump into the water, assuring them that the water was shallow.

Twelve passengers did as they were told. Immediately, they struggled to stay afloat and desperately began to cry for help. The two passengers who remained on the panga saw their fellow travelers struggle and threw life jackets into the ocean. Soto Aguilar and Geraldo Romero then saw a lifeless body floating in the water. After pulling the body into the panga, Soto Aguilar and Geraldo Romero accelerated the boat away from the group in the water to another beach about half a mile away. After landing there, Soto Aguilar and Geraldo Romero then left the panga and fled the scene. However, after some searches by the police, they were apprehended nearby.

While law enforcement was securing the crime scene, a concerned citizen spotted an individual floating in the water near the stranded panga. Responders immediately rushed to the aid of the individual, lifted him out of the water and quickly realized he was unconscious. A border patrol officer performed CPR in an attempt to resuscitate the individual, but he was pronounced dead after rescuers arrived at the scene. The deceased was later identified as Rogelio Perez-Gutierrez, a 43-year-old Mexican citizen.

At the original disembarkation point, the United States Border Patrol, United States Coast Guard and rescuers from San Diego spotted the individuals struggling desperately in the ocean. Rescuers eventually saved ten people from the water. In subsequent interviews, passengers on the panga said they paid between $ 12,000 and $ 15,000 to be brought to the United States; they said they feared for their lives throughout the ocean voyage.

During the sentencing hearing, US District Judge John Houston spoke of the “extraordinary danger” of high seas smuggling. Speaking of the seriousness of the crime, Judge Houston said: “A human being n It’s not here because of the risk you were willing to take. ” He further urged the defendants to “[t]Tell Mexicans that being a captain or helping to steer a ship on the high seas will result in significant punishment. “

“It was a tragedy that should never have happened,” Acting US Attorney Randy Grossman said. “These deadly contraband incidents are on the increase. We will aggressively demand justice for the victims. But we also urge anyone considering an attempt to cross the border illegally: don’t do it. Don’t put your life in the hands of greedy smugglers who care about money, not you. Grossman praised the excellent work of the prosecution team as well as HSI officers, Coast Guard officers, border patrol officers and San Diego rescuers, for their efforts in the case. .

“The US Border Patrol will continue to seek maximum prosecutions against individuals who smuggle at sea,” said Aaron Heitke, chief patrol officer for the San Diego area. “This incredibly dangerous and unpredictable tactic has already claimed lives, but smuggling organizations continue to get rich using it.”

DEFENDANTS File number 21cr1665-JAH

Victor Alfonso Soto Aguilar Age: 37 Residence: Mexico

Jose Ramon Geraldo Romero Age: 24 Residence: Mexico

SUMMARY OF EXPENSES

8 USC § 1324 (a) (1) (A) (i) and (B) (iv) – Attempted introduction of illegal aliens resulting in death

Maximum penalty: Death or imprisonment for any period of years or for life; $ 250,000 fine.

8 USC § 1324 (a) (2) (B) (ii) – Attempt to introduce illegal aliens for financial gain (three counts)

Maximum penalty: mandatory minimum penalty of five years imprisonment; fifteen years maximum; $ 250,000 fine

AGENCIES

Internal security investigations

United States Coast Guard

San Diego Lifeguards

United States Border Patrol

Customs and border protection

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California helps lead Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA), which was created by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in June 2021 to mobilize investigative and prosecution resources from the Department of Justice, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS ), to improve law enforcement in the United States. against the most prolific and dangerous human trafficking and smuggling groups operating in Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The task force focuses on disrupting and dismantling smuggling and trafficking networks that abuse, exploit or endanger migrants, pose threats to national security and are involved in organized crime. JTFA consists of federal prosecutors and attorneys from the United States Attorney’s offices along the Southwestern border (District of Arizona, District of Southern California, District of South Texas, and District of West Texas), Division criminal and civil rights division, as well as law enforcement officers and analysts from DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and borders Border protection and patrol. The FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration are also on the task force.

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