A federal judge in Orange County has sentenced a 22-year-old human smuggler to prison after immigration officers found a small, blue panga boat overloaded with 24 Mexicans attempting to enter the United States illegally at Crystal Cove State Beach last June.
Jaime Verdin-Gonzalez, the father of two young kids and a charbroiled chicken shop owner with his family in Mexico, admitted that his role in the smuggling operation was to handle fuel for the boat.
The smugglers took roughly $10,000 from each of the passengers, who in the wee hours of the night waded through coastal waters and touched soil but didn't make it far due to awaiting Department of Homeland Security agents using night-vision binoculars.
Verdin-Gonzalez, who has used his time in federal custody in Santa Ana to improve his English skills in a jail program, apologized to U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney and hoped to receive punishment of no more than one year in prison.
Federal prosecutors inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse argued for a term of 37 months in custody.
This month, Carney handed the smuggler, whose criminal record in the U.S. had been clean prior to this offense, a term of 30 months.
Coast Guard or Customs and Border Protection (CBP) airplanes and helicopter equipped with radar and thermal imaging technology often detect suspicious boats when they enter the Pacific Ocean near San Diego.
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In this case, a federal marine interdiction agent in a plane spotted the boat racing through the water, tracked it for hours and, asked a Coast Guard helicopter unit to takeover surveillance during refueling.
But the helicopter lost the boat in a region with heavy, low clouds, according to a Homeland Security report.