SAN DIEGO — The captain and co-captain of a boat that capsized off Imperial Beach during a 2022 smuggling incident, resulting in three deaths, were sentenced in federal court Dec. 14 to 54 and 50 months in prison, respectively. Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) San Diego Marine Task Force led the investigation with significant assistance from its federal law enforcement partners.
“Maritime human smuggling is an incredibly dangerous tactic, which has claimed numerous lives. However, transnational criminal organizations have no regard for human life and continue to enrich themselves using the tactic,” said HSI San Diego Special Agent in Charge Chad Plantz. “HSI is committed to using all means at our disposal to investigate and hold accountable those placing human beings at substantial risk of injury and death.”
Jorge Armando Preciado-Vasquez, the captain, and Alexis Martinez-Preciado, the co-captain and navigator, attempted to smuggle seven adults and an unaccompanied minor from Mexico into the United States over Thanksgiving weekend in 2022.
The victims were a 39-year-old woman and 47-year-old man, both from Mexico, and an unidentified young woman believed to be from Guatemala.
According to plea agreements and the government’s sentencing documents, the defendants navigated the open-hull craft from Mexico on the open ocean through the night until they approached Imperial Beach early in the morning on Nov. 26. As they approached the shore, at approximately 6 a.m., the defendants directed all eight people on board to take off their life vests, a common practice so passengers are quicker and more inconspicuous making their way to shore.
Soon after removing the life jackets, however, the boat overturned. The three victims drowned despite the best efforts of surfers, witnesses and Imperial Beach lifeguards to rescue them.
Two bodies were recovered that morning; the third was discovered on the beach days later.
“This case is a horrible tragedy and three lives were needlessly lost when profiteering overtook caution,” said U. S. Attorney Tara McGrath. “Criminal smuggling organizations consistently disregard the welfare of the human beings they smuggle.”
Agencies that contributed this the success of this case include the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, the San Diego Harbor Police Department and the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office.
This case is being prosecuted by the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California.
HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’ largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.