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Two men sentenced in fatal smuggling attempt off La Jolla coast

Posted at 8:52 PM, Dec 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-13 23:52:36-05

SAN DIEGO (CNS) — Two men who pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a fatal human smuggling attempt in a panga boat that stalled off the coast of La Jolla were sentenced Monday to federal prison terms.

The boat's captain, Victor Alfonso Soto Aguilar, 37, was sentenced to nearly six years in prison, while another man who acted as a refueler -- Jose Ramon Geraldo Romero, 24 -- received five years. Both men pleaded guilty in connection with the attempted smuggling of more than a dozen people, which led to the drowning death of one of the vessel's occupants.

Both men told authorities that they agreed to man the vessel in lieu of paying smuggling fees to enter the United States, according to the complaint filed against them earlier this year.

Prosecutors said that with 16 people aboard, the vessel was overloaded, leading to engine failure that caused it to stall in open waters during the predawn hours of May 20.

According to the prosecution's sentencing papers, the boat stalled about 80 yards from shore, off Marine Street Beach. The boat's occupants were told the water was shallow, and were instructed to remove their life jackets and jump into the water, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office, which alleged neither defendant knew whether the passengers could swim.

Fifteen people, including Aguilar and Romero, were recovered by rescue personnel, but 43-year-old Rogelio Perez-Gutierrez died.

Migrants rescued in the smuggling attempt said they paid up to $15,000 to be smuggled, according to prosecutors.