Smuggling Suspect Stuck Behind Bars Until Trial

Smuggling suspect stuck behind bars until trial

By Sally Apgar
The South Florida Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale), July 5, 2008

A Loxahatchee man who confessed to investigators that he organized 12 smuggling trips for undocumented immigrants between Cuba and Palm Beach County within the past year was deemed a flight risk and a danger to the community by a federal judge Thursday and ordered imprisoned until trial.

Luis Perez, 30, is one of six Cuban nationals charged in June in connection with a Nov. 15 smuggling trip that brought 35 Cubans, including two toddlers, to the shores of Palm Beach aboard a 33-foot speedboat. One passenger, Carlos Pon-Arias, 39, drowned in the surf.

Perez, who pleaded innocent, faces the death penalty or life imprisonment and fines of about $1 million.

Perez and the others are charged with a host of counts involving the smuggling of illegal immigrants.

Also indicted and detained in custody are Angel Arce-Perez, 42, and Aurelio Sanchez-Ortega, both of Miami; Duany Jimenez, 24, Maikel Soto, 28, and Angel Julio Navarro-Lliteras. All the men entered pleas of not guilty.

In a court hearing Thursday on detaining Perez, Assistant U.S. Attorney John McMillan said that Perez's Cuban smuggling organization charged $10,000 a head. Passengers either paid in full or waited, locked in Perez's Loxahatchee garage until family members arrived to pay the balance.

McMillan said the Loxahatchee house served as the base for the operation and that ledgers found in Perez's possession during a routine traffic stop April 24 showed lists of passengers and people involved in the operation.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Charles Matthew Saxton testified that he followed Perez in April when he went to Miami to pay about $800 for 50 fifteen-gallon plastic drums. He testified that he has seen such drums used by smugglers who need to refuel and that the drums were stored at the Loxahatchee house.

Perez's defense attorney, Randee Golder, argued that agents had not provided evidence and had not even shown Perez was on the boat.

U.S. Magistrate James Hopkins ruled that Perez needed to be detained because he is a danger to the community.