Friday, July 15, 2011 at 4:17 p.m.
UPDATE, JULY 15, 4:17: Four of the fourteen Mexican nationals who were onboard the panga boat that capsized near Newport Tuesday have been charged as criminals -- three for "conspiring to bring illegal aliens to the United States" and the other for illegal entry.
The three alleged conspirators -- Ezequial Mendez-Garcia, David Moises Valderama-Acuna and Trididad Valderama-Acuna --
were the boat's captain, assistant captain and navigator, in that order, according to an ICE news release.
The fourth Mexican national that wound up in a federal court Wednesday afternoon was Israel Septimo-Rubio. Officials decided to prosecute Septimo-Rubio because investigators say he was arrested less than two weeks before Tuesday's crash when another smuggling boat showed up at an Orange County beach.
They allegedly have ties to the 23-foot private pleasure boat that customs officers found off the coast of Dana Point in early June. The boat was laden with 500 pounds of pot in secret compartments, the news release says.
ORIGINAL POST, JULY 14, 3:17 P.M.:A panga boat carrying 14 suspected illegal immigrants from Mexico capsized near the shoreline at the Crystal Cove State Park Tuesday night.
Customs officials say this is just one example of the active maritime human and drug smuggling happening along Orange County's coastline. The boat, which traveled "under the cover of darkness," hit some rough surf as it headed near the beach and then capsized, says Claude Arnold, a special agent in charge for ICE Homeland Security investigations.
The boats often end up in Orange County, or even as far north as Santa Barbara, as they deliberately avoid the plethora of surveillance in San Diego.
Arnold says officials see signs of two to three maritime smuggling attempts per week between the northern part of Orange County and Santa Barbara.
He attributes the prevalence of alternative smuggling approaches--like on boats, through tunnels or in ultralight airplanes--to the "tightening of the ports and in between the ports with Border Patrol."
A Los Angeles Times story by
Sam Quinones and
Andrew Blankstein about the incident Tuesday night reports that in the last year the U.S. Attorney's office in Orange County has brought charges to 17 people involved in maritime smuggling.