MIL-OSI USA: California man charged with maritime smuggling crimes in attempt that killed 3 following HSI San Diego, partner investigation

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Source: US Immigration and Customs Enforcement

SAN DIEGO — Charges unsealed Feb. 22 against Faustino Romero De La Cruz, 40, of Santa Barbara, allege that he organized the attempted smuggling of multiple unauthorized immigrants by boat on April 10, 2022, which resulted in the tragic drowning deaths of three passengers. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) San Diego’s Marine Task Force led the investigation with assistance from several federal and local law enforcement partners.

“Maritime human smuggling has proven time and time again to be incredibly dangerous and often results in senseless claimed lives,” said HSI San Diego Special Agent in Charge Chad Plantz. “While transnational criminal organizations seek to enrich themselves using the tactic, HSI is committed to using all means at our disposal to investigate and hold accountable those placing human beings at substantial risk of injury and death.”

Romero was arrested on Feb. 21 in Santa Barbara. He made his first appearance in federal court in San Diego that afternoon.

On April 10, 2022, human smugglers attempted to transport more than 10 unauthorized immigrants from Mexico into the United States aboard a cuddy-style boat. As the vessel approached the shore near the Ocean Beach Pier, it capsized. Despite law enforcement and other emergency response personnel’s efforts, three victims drowned.

According to court records, HSI agents identified Romero as a U.S.-based coordinator who, working with others, arranged for unauthorized immigrants to be smuggled into the United States by land and sea, then collected thousands of dollars in smuggling fees before transporting them on to Northern California and elsewhere.

“Too many precious lives are needlessly lost in catastrophic incidents like this one,” said U.S. Attorney Tara McGrath. “Case after case demonstrates that smugglers are more interested in maximizing profits than safety, which all too often leads to tragic results. Never trust your life to a smuggler.”

The charges and allegations contained in an indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney James Miao and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Doolin.

The U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, the San Diego Harbor Police Department, the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office assisted with the case.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’ largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.