The migrant smuggling boat was to sail from a North Miami Beach dock, but its voyage to the Bahamas was thwarted when federal agents arrested a South Florida man who claimed links to a Brazilian ring that transported undocumented immigrants to the United States, federal court records show.
Mauricio Paim De Sa’s recent arrest by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents exposed details of the migrant smuggling operation that involved several alleged accomplices in the Bahamas and Brazil. All allegedly were involved in smuggling Brazilian and Chinese undocumented immigrants to the United States via the Bahamas.
The case, now in Miami federal court, is similar to one in 2012 when federal agents arrested a Brazilian couple in South Florida for connections to a sophisticated smuggling ring that brought wealthy Brazilians illegally to the United States via a convoluted travel system. It involved flights from Brazil to Europe and then to the Bahamas where the Brazilians boarded boats for the final leg of the long voyage to the United States.
Court documents do not say whether U.S. investigators know how the Brazilians and Chinese in the latest De Sa case got to the Bahamas, but from there they were to board boats to reach South Florida.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
One of those boats was supposed to be the one that De Sa, 44, was trying to hire in Miami-Dade, according to court records.
The case is outlined in a criminal complaint filed by an HSI special agent.
It said that on Aug. 19, De Sa contacted a confidential government informant stating that he was looking for a person who could arrange for a boat and a captain to travel to the Bahamas and smuggle undocumented immigrants to South Florida.
Six days later, under HSI surveillance, De Sa and the informant met at Duffy’s Restaurant and Bar in North Miami Beach where the informant showed the defendant a vessel docked in the back of the restaurant facing the Intracoastal Waterway, according to the criminal complaint.
“While inside the smuggling vessel, De Sa and the [confidential informant] discussed details of the smuggling venture,” the complaint said.
De Sa instructed the informant to travel on the boat to Freeport in the Bahamas to pick up 19 undocumented immigrants, 12 from Brazil and seven from China, the complaint said. De Sa then told the informant that he planned to travel on the boat and collect smuggling fees from the migrants, $6,000 per person, according to the complaint.
“De Sa stated that he wants to do several more trips after this, with loads of 20 people at a time, one after the other,” the complaint said.
De Sa was arrested on Aug. 28 when he gave the informant $1,399 in cash as payment for the planned trip to the Bahamas, the complaint said.
After the arrest, the complaint said, De Sa acknowledged that he worked with “many” associates in the Bahamas and Brazil “to bring migrants from Brazil, China and elsewhere into the United States from the Bahamas.”
The migrant smuggling voyage to pick up the Brazilian and Chinese migrants never happened.
“Bahamian law enforcement officials were made aware of the impending operation and conducted an enforcement operation at the location De Sa provided,” the complaint said.
HSI, a unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), declined comment because the case is still under investigation.
De Sa has since pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiring to “encourage and induce an alien to come to, enter, and reside in the United States…in violation of the law,” according to the indictment.
If convicted, De Sa could be sentenced to a maximum term of 10 years in the federal penitentiary.
Alfonso Chardy : 305-376-3435, @AlfonsoChardy