A long-term Cuban alien smuggling investigation conducted by agents from the U.S. Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard culminated in the conviction by a Tampa jury of Yoel Emilio Baez-Hernandez. According to a press release by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Tampa, jurors convicted Baez-Hernandez of conspiring to bring 73 Cuban aliens to the United States, as well as smuggling 13 illegal aliens into the United States. The evidence presented at trial included the testimony of three other previously convicted members of the smuggling organization who testified that between 2007 and 2009, the organization used Baez-Hernandez’s twin outboard Renegade go-fast boat to facilitate transport the aliens to Florida from Cuba. The smugglers charged each alien a fee of $10,000 U.S. dollars. The organization smuggled the aliens from Cuba to the Port Charlotte, Florida area, located on Florida’s west coast. After landing on U.S. soil, Baez-Hernandez and other conspirators transported the aliens to the Miami area. Once there the aliens turned themselves in to the U.S. Border Patrol for processing, claiming, as instructed by the smugglers, that they had just landed in the Miami area. This “staged landing” narrative furthered the smuggling conspiracy by misleading federal agents regarding the true circumstances concerning their arrival in the U.S., and is a common tactic employed by maritime smugglers in based in Florida. After being processed by agents, the Cuban nationals are typically released into the community, as they are eligible to adjust their status to lawful admission under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966. This case highlights the complexities federal agents face in the detection and apprehension of criminals who seek to smuggle people or other contraband into the U.S. via the maritime domain to Florida’s largely unguarded west coast. According to the press release, Baez-Hernandez, who is a Cuban citizen residing lawfully in the U.S., faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for each alien he conspired to bring illegally into the U.S. He also faces a minimum mandatory sentence of 5 years, up to 15 years, for bringing the 13 illegal aliens into the U.S. Due to his criminal convictions, Baez-Hernandez will likely lose his lawful U.S. immigration status, but may never face deportation to Cuba due to Cuba's long standing policy of refusing to accept Cuban citizens ordered deported from the U.S.
July 5, 2014