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9 charged with smuggling immigrants or drugs by boat

Officials say the incidents, in which smugglers in rickety boats go up to 100 miles from the coast without basic safety or navigation equipment, show a 'chilling' disregard for safety.

July 16, 2011|By Carlos Lozano, Los Angeles Times
  • People examine a boat used by illegal immigrants who were rescued after it overturned in surf near Crystal Cove State Beach on Tuesday. As security tightens, smugglers are increasingly desperate.
People examine a boat used by illegal immigrants who were rescued after… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

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 as it came ashore at Crystal Cove State Park, near Newport Beach in Orange County, authorities said.

Authorities detained 14 people, all from Mexico, 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 that he was arrested less than two weeks earlier following his arrival in another smuggling boat, authorities said.

All four appeared in federal court in Santa Ana on 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. Atty. 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 human smuggling. According to the case affidavit, he was to receive $100 for each immigrant he helped smuggle into the U.S.

Meanwhile, federal authorities have charged 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 of the men are Mexican nationals.

carlos.lozano@latimes.com

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