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Captain, Mate Seek to Detain 5 Chinese

Courts: Judge is asked to declare the men material witnesses in an Orange County smuggling case and thereby halt their deportation.

July 09, 2002|MONTE MORIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two accused high-seas smugglers hope to stop the deportation of five Chinese nationals who jumped naked from a fishing trawler two months ago and swam ashore near Laguna Beach in a botched attempt to enter the country.

In papers filed Monday in federal court in Santa Ana, lawyers representing the fishing boat captain and his chief engineer say the Chinese men hold information critical to their clients' freedom. But U.S. authorities have put the potential witnesses on the fast track for removal from the country, the lawyers said, which jeopardizes the men's defense.

Lawyers representing Jinn Yinn Wang, captain of the Taiwanese fishing vessel Fuxing N.06, and co-defendant Jin Long Guo asked a U.S. judge to declare the five men material witnesses in their smuggling case and thereby halt their deportation by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. U.S. District Judge Alicemarie H. Stotler took the matter under advisement and said she would rule on the matter within a day.

While federal prosecutors say the five Chinese men were among a group of 10 would-be immigrants who paid thousands of dollars to be smuggled ashore, defense lawyer Steven J. Riggs insisted that the men were members of the Fuxing N.06 crew. Instead of being victimized by the captain and engineer, Riggs said the crew turned on them, locked them away and eventually jumped ship.

Among other evidence Riggs and co-counsel William Morrissey plan to present at trial is proof that the Fuxing N.06 was loaded with two tons of fish--a payload that would suggest it was actually a fishing vessel and that the captain and his engineer had help from other willing hands.

"This was an oceangoing vessel," Riggs said. "There's no way these two individuals maintained the boat, fished, kept 10 people in custody, fed them and otherwise looked after them."

Assistant U.S. attorney Lawrence Kole and other officials say all 10 Chinese nationals were held in squalid confinement during their journey and forced to call the captain "boss." Authorities have already designated five as government witnesses; the men have allegedly declined to speak with defense lawyers for the accused smugglers.

The 10 men paddled ashore north of Laguna Beach in May, naked and clinging to makeshift floats. Once on the beach, the men changed into suits and baseball caps that had been stored in plastic bags. The group was taken into custody when they were observed changing on the beach.

Authorities say the men paid $10,000 each to be smuggled more than 7,000 miles from China, through Taiwan and into the U.S.

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