A man who was behind the wheel of a boat that capsized last summer about 7 1/2 miles off the coast of Mission Bay was sentenced Monday to more than four years in custody for smuggling people and drugs aboard the vessel.
Henrry Javier Garcia Valle, 38, of Sinaloa, Mexico, pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from the July 26 incident, in which the vessel capsized with 14 undocumented immigrants aboard, which included himself and three co-defendants, but everyone survived, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The boat was spotted by the U.S. Coast Guard just before 4 a.m. and Valle sped away from agents, according to the prosecution’s sentencing memorandum. The boat eventually stopped and started taking on water, at which point people were seen tossing bags into the ocean.
Three of the bags were recovered and contained more than 75 pounds of methamphetamine, according to court documents.
Garcia Valle and the others were rescued by the Coast Guard. He later admitted to smuggling both the people and drugs in a boat described by prosecutors as “dilapidated,” and not equipped with a sufficient amount of food or life vests.
Garcia Valle’s co-defendants, all Mexican citizens assisted with refueling or directing the migrants, also pleaded guilty. Two of the men have already been sentenced, while another is due to be sentenced next month.
“Smuggling attempts like these oftentimes lead to tragic consequences, which fortunately were avoided this time,” said Rear Adm. Brian Penoyer, Eleventh Coast Guard District commander.
The sentence follows a spate of recent failed smuggling attempts off the coast of San Diego, including two this month that resulted in fatalities.
“We’re encountering more smugglers who attempt to avoid detection by navigating their ill-equipped vessels farther out to sea,” said Cardell T. Morant, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations. “It cannot be overstated — dangerous smuggling operations like these could potentially result in lives lost at sea.”