VI CONSORTIUM – Alain Rene Leichtnam, 71, a French national, pleaded guilty today (August 12) in District Court here to 38 counts of an indictment charging him with encouraging and inducing aliens to enter the United States in violation of law, United States Attorney Ronald W. Sharpe announced this afternoon.
According to the plea agreement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Air and Marine (OAM) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) intercepted a sailing vessel Mazurka heading towards Coral Bay on the East End of St. John, Virgin Islands in the early morning hours of April 29, 2015.
CBP agents observed Leichtnam operating the vessel and identified 38 Cuban nationals and one national of St. Lucia onboard. Leichtnam admitted that he transported the Cuban nationals to the United States for financial gain knowing that the conduct was unlawful.
Leichtnam was remanded to the custody of the United States Marshals Service pending sentencing, which is scheduled for December 4, 2015.
“Those responsible for encouraging and inducing immigrants to enter the United States illegally are placing personal profit ahead of public safety and the lives of the immigrants,” Sharpe said. “This conviction should warn those involved in this dangerous and illegal activity that it comes with a high price.”
Angel M. Melendez, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, said the agency will continue its diligent work to quell the smuggling of aliens onto U.S. soil.
“ICE continues to be committed to putting an end to the practice of profiting from the illegal transportation of aliens across our borders and throughout our country. We will continue to vigorously enforce the federal laws which punish the many manifestations of the complex problem of smuggling, trafficking and harboring illegal aliens,” Melendez said.
“Tragically, many have lost their lives while attempting this illegal and treacherous trip. Human smugglers have a callous disregard for the value of human life and are only concerned about making a profit. ICE will continue to aggressively work with our U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) partners to identify and arrest those involved in this illicit and dangerous activity,” he concluded.
The case was investigated by ICE with the assistance of CBP and the USCG. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kim L. Chisholm.
St. Lucian witness
The St. Lucia national was ordered to be held in a federal detention facility after she arrived in a boat on the East End of St. John along with 38 Cuban migrants.
U.S. Magistrate Ruth Miller ruled the woman, identified as Kurcharma Mishkia St. Luce, 23, a material witness in the case against Leichtnam, 71.
In court documents St. Luce, a native of St. Lucia, told agents from the Department of Homeland Security Leichtnam was her boyfriend. They were both taken into custody by the U.S. Coast Guard on April 30 as Leichtman dropped off the Mazurka’s passengers.
The woman told investigators she and family members were socializing with Leichtnam on board the catamaran on April 25. When Leichtnam left the next morning to buy water in preparation for a trip another man appeared along with Cubans and boarded them, St. Luce said.
When the boat left port the woman told authorities she thought they were headed to St. Martin, but she heard the Cubans on board saying “St. John” and “St. Thomas,” according to the documents. But when she asked Leichtnam what the extra people were doing on board he did not answer her, she told authorities.
Investigators said St. Luce told them she decided she would not press the matter because she did not want 38 angry Cubans on her hands so she went along with the change of plans.