Crime

New Brazilian migrant smuggling network discovered

The 24-foot vessel with one outboard engine was spotted from the air about 10 miles from Miami Beach.

Two Border Patrol boats intercepted the boat and found aboard two teenage boys and two men.

Thus began a new case involving attempted smuggling of Brazilian migrants into South Florida. Eventually, the two men piloting the boat as well as the boys’ mother and a friend of hers were taken into federal custody.

The case is the third example in three years of migrant smuggling of Brazilians in South Florida. In 2012, federal agents arrested a Brazilian couple in South Florida for connections to a sophisticated smuggling ring. The ring brought wealthy Brazilians illegally to the United States via a convoluted travel system involving flights from Brazil to Europe and then boats from the Bahamas for the final leg to South Florida.

The latest case, discovered by immigration officials Sept. 11, resembles the 2012 case because of the convoluted travels of the two Brazilian boys who ultimately were the smuggled migrants. But this time, the person who paid the smugglers was their mother.

Now, the woman, her friend and two South Florida men — both believed to be Cuban — are being prosecuted in Miami. The men were accused of conspiring to encourage foreign nationals to enter the United States illegally. The woman was charged with having illegally returned to the United States after being deported.

The defendants are the boat crewmen, Andy Pujol Marrero and Miguel Ulises Martinez, as well as the boys’ mother, Ivonte Da Paixao Cutrim Serra, and her friend, Robson Jose Ernesto Gonçalves.

All of them pleaded not guilty and demanded trial by jury, but Gonçalves changed his plea to guilty Nov. 12. His sentencing has been set for January.

Homeland Security Investigations, a unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, declined comment because the case is still under investigation. Attorneys for the defendants could not be reached for comment.

The case began earlier this year when Serra contacted a migrant smuggler who in June had brought a friend of hers from Brazil and charged $8,000 for the service, according to the criminal complaint.

Serra then agreed to pay $16,000 to smuggle her sons from Brazil, the complaint said. Serra had previously entered the United States illegally and was living in New Jersey.

The complaint said Serra had $23,980 in a vehicle parked outside the hotel where she was staying in Pompano Beach where agents interviewed her after her arrest. Part of that money, $16,000, was to be paid to the smugglers after the arrival of her sons, the complaint said.

The boys, one 13 and the other 16, said they traveled from Brazil to Colombia and then the Dominican Republic before reaching the Bahamas, where they boarded the boat in which they were interdicted. They were escorted by an aunt who stayed with them at a hotel in Bimini for four days until they boarded the boat stopped by the Border Patrol,

On Sept. 10, the criminal complaint said, the vessel picked up the teenagers in Bimini and headed to Miami Beach.

When Border Patrol agents interviewed Gonçalves, he revealed that he was linked to migrant smugglers, the criminal complaint said.

“Gonçalves admitted to having assisted several other Brazilians get smuggled into the United States,” the complaint said.

A jury trial for the remaining three defendants is now tentatively scheduled for January.

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