NEW YORK — The alleged leader of 288 Chinese who were smuggled to the United States aboard a rusty cargo ship was charged Friday with manslaughter in the deaths of six people who died in a mad scramble to shore after their boat ran aground.
Kin Sin Lee, 24, of Canton, China, was accused of causing the death of six people aboard the Golden Venture when it ran aground on a sandbar off Rockaway Beach, Queens, after a grueling 16,000-mile voyage. The ship had left China and made stops in Thailand and Kenya before arriving in New York.
A total of 10 bodies have been recovered since the June 7 accident. Some of the bodies were badly decomposed. Most of the passengers sought political asylum and their cases are pending.
The accident prompted calls for stricter handling of immigrant smuggling cases.
Lee was charged with second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. His lawyer, Michael Hurwitz, said Lee was innocent.
"He didn't force anybody to jump off the ship," Hurwitz said. "When this case was splashed all over the newspapers, there was pressure from Washington. The government had to do something."
Also named in the indictment were 19 others who were charged with aiding and abetting foreigners to enter the country illegally, conspiracy and related smuggling charges.
Lee and the others remained in custody after their arraignment in federal court in Brooklyn.
Lawyers told U.S. District Judge Reena Raggi during the arraignment that as many as 10 of the defendants had agreed to cooperate in the case. Some of them may enter guilty pleas to reduced charges next week.