SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – The pilot of a boat that capsized during a drug and human smuggling event was sentenced in federal court today to 50 months in custody.
Henrry Javier Garcia Valle pleaded guilty in September 2020 to Possession of Methamphetamine with Intent to Distribute on Board a Vessel, in violation of Title 46, United States Code, Section 70502(a)(1).
At the hearing, U.S. District Judge John Houston admonished the defendant: “Tell the other fishermen – ‘Don’t do it.’ . . . You are placing everyone in danger. The smugglers don’t care. Tell your friends don’t do this.”
“Maritime drug and human smugglers repeatedly engage in dangerous tactics to avoid law enforcement,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “In this event, 14 individuals including the defendant almost lost their lives due to the defendant’s conduct. We will continue to hold accountable those who engage in these dangerous tactics.” Grossman praised Assistant U.S. Attorney Charlotte Kaiser and law enforcement partners for their excellent work on this case.
“We’re encountering more smugglers who attempt to avoid detection by navigating their ill-equipped vessels farther out to sea,” said Cardell T. Morant, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). “It cannot be overstated—dangerous smuggling operations like these could potentially result in lives lost at sea.”
“Smuggling attempts like these oftentimes lead to tragic consequences, which fortunately were avoided this time,” said Rear Adm. Brian Penoyer, Eleventh Coast Guard District commander. “Today, justice has been served, and the Coast Guard will continue to work with our maritime partners to bring these criminals to justice.”
According to the government’s sentencing memorandum, on July 25, 2020 at 11 p.m., air interdiction agents spotted a vessel using no navigational lights headed towards the United States from Mexico. At approximately 3:58 a.m. on July 26, 2020, the U.S Coast Guard attempted to interdict the vessel containing 14 individuals, who later were determined to be non-citizens without legal status to be in the United States. The location was approximately 7.5 miles west of Mission Bay. Reports from law enforcement and information from fellow defendants indicated that the defendant gave chase for several minutes and then the boat stopped. At that point, law enforcement saw certain individuals toss bags from the boat. Three of the bags subsequently were recovered and contained approximately 37.2 kilograms of methamphetamine. On further testing, the amount came to 35 kilograms of actual methamphetamine, and was deemed 100 percent pure.
At the time the boat stopped, it began to take on water. The occupants shifted and the boat began to capsize. U.S. Coast Guard officials were able to rescue all 14 occupants including defendant and three co-defendants identified as crew members. Two of those other codefendants – Faustino Dominguez Padilla and Ivan Ramirez Guzman – pleaded guilty to human smuggling and were sentenced to approximately 7.5 and 10 months in custody, respectively. Another co-defendant – Joel Lopez Burgos – pleaded guilty to the same charge as defendant and will be sentenced in June 2021.
As part of his plea agreement, the defendant admitted that he was pilot or captain of the vessel that contained 14 occupants including himself, all of whom lacked lawful status to enter or remain in the United States, as well as the 37.2 kilograms of methamphetamine. The defendant admitted that he conspired to bring the occupants and the drugs into the United States illegally. He further admitted that the boat not only had no navigational lights on during the overnight journey but also that it had engine problems and that none of the defendants was wearing life vests. He additionally recognized that the boat capsized after a pursuit.
DEFENDANTS Case Number 20CR2524-JAH
Henrry Javier Garcia Valle Age: 38 Sinaloa, Mexico
Joel Lopez Burgos Age: 35 Sinaloa, Mexico
Faustino Dominguez-Padilla Age: 37 Jalisco, Mexico
Ivan Ramirez Guzman Age: 27 Sinaloa, Mexico
SUMMARY OF CHARGES
For Defendants Henrry Javier Garcia Valle and Joel Lopez Burgos:
Possession of Methamphetamine with Intent to Distribute on Board a Vessel – Title 46, United States Code, Section 70502(a)(1) – Maximum penalty: Life in prison and $10 million fine.
For Defendants Faustino Dominguez-Padilla and Ivan Ramirez Guzman:
Attempted Bringing in Without Presentation and Aiding and Abetting – Title 8, U.S.C., Section 1324(a)(2)(B)(iii) and Title 18, United States Code, Section 2
Maximum penalty: Five years in prison, and $250,000 fine.
Homeland Security Investigations
U.S. Border Patrol
U.S. Coast Guard