While on routine patrol just after 4 a.m. on Oct. 19, 2011, the crew of the United States Coast Guard Cutter Petrel spotted an open-bow, panga boat operating without lights in rough waters near San Diego.
The boat weaved through commercial freightliners in an attempt to avoid detection, but the Coast Guard followed it for 70 miles up the California coast toward San Clemente Island.
The U.S. government agents eventually stopped the boat and found 15 Mexicans and one El Salvadorian onboard.
None of the boat occupants had valid U.S. immigration entry documents, according to a Homeland Security report obtained by the Weekly.
Federal agents arrested boat occupant Hector Martinez Fregoso in the scheme and charged him with "bringing illegal aliens to the United States for private financial gain."
Occupants of the boat had paid $6,500 each for the trip from Mexico, and Fregoso eventually pleaded guilty for a sentence reduction.
This week, U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney sentenced Fregoso, who was born in 1983, to a serve a federal prison term of 30 months.