A Big Pine Key couple who stole a sailboat and took it to Cuba last March face 15 years of federal time after a grand jury this week indicted them on two felonies.
Aaron William Burmeister, 46, and Ashley Ann McNeil, 32, told agents with U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Services that they did not realize the 40-foot catamaran they sailed off in from Newfound Harbor off the southern point of Little Torch Key on March 30 was stolen until they were well underway.
A Key West grand jury Thursday indicted them on one count each of conspiracy to transport a vessel in foreign commerce and transporting a vessel in foreign commerce. The charges carry a maximum sentence of five and 10 years, respectively.
McNeil told agents that once they figured it out, they decided to keep going, considering it a sort of “honeymoon,” according to court documents.
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The honeymoon was short-lived. The owner of the vessel, Hector Cisneros, reported it stolen. Through social media and a network of sailing enthusiasts called the Seven Seas Cruising Association, whose members put out a be-on-the-lookout for the boat on high-frequency radio, Cuban authorities got wind that the vessel, named the Kaisosi, was stolen.
Burmeister and McNeil were arrested April 1.
They spent the next six months locked up in Cuba. They were returned to the U.S. last month and promptly arrested at Miami International Airport by federal agents.
Burmeister told agents his intended destination was the Bahamas, but the prevailing southerly winds took them to Cuba. He said he and McNeil quit their jobs in Big Pine with hopes of never returning to the States. Both he and McNeil told agents they thought the moored sailboat was abandoned when they spotted it, according to court documents.
Their attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment.
Cisneros bought the Kaisosi in 2017 for $350,000, and planned to eventually live on the 2009 Admiral Executive brand vessel when he retired, he said in an April 3 interview with the Miami Herald/FLKeysNews.com.