Colombian linked to rape, two deaths in illegal Cuban smuggling operation gets 15 years

A Colombian linked to the rape and murder of a Cuban woman and the killing of a Cuban man during a migrant smuggling operation was sentenced to 15 years in prison Tuesday in Miami federal court.

Fredis Valencia Palacios, 30, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and smuggling charges resulting in the deaths, collaborated with three other Colombians in the illegal operation two years ago.

A third migrant passenger who survived the deadly journey provided eye-witness evidence for Miami federal prosecutors to make the criminal case against Valencia Palacios, Jhoan Stiven Carreazo Asprilla and Carlos Emilio Ibarguen Palacios. A fourth Colombian defendant is a fugitive.

In September 2016, Valencia Palacios brought the three Cuban migrants to a Colombian port city to be transported by boat to Panama on their way to the United States. The boat was captained by Ibarguen Palacios, with Carreazo Asprilla as his first mate.

For $2,900 wired from Miami, the Colombians were supposed to smuggle the three Cubans from Colombia to Panama en route to the United States.

One of the Cuban migrants was raped before having her throat slit, according to Homeland Security Investigations. And another migrant had his throat cut. The third migrant was left for dead in the water, but survived.

Ibarguen Palacios and Carreazo Asprilla committed the rape and murders, according to HSI agents.

Each of the three Colombian defendants pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to encourage and induce aliens to come to the United States resulting in death, and three counts of encouraging and inducing aliens to come to the United States resulting in death and placing lives in jeopardy.

They pleaded guilty this year before U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez, who sentenced Valencia Palacios. Ibarguen Palacios and Carreazo Asprilla are scheduled for sentencing on Jan. 4.

The fourth Colombian defendant, Jorge Fernando Rivera Weir, who arranged the smuggling operation, is at large.