District Court Judge Curtis V. Gomez on Friday sentenced Alain Rene Leichtnam, 71, a French national, to 24 months in prison for smuggling undocumented immigrants into the United States, U.S. Attorney Ronald W. Sharpe announced.
Leichtnam also was ordered to serve two years of supervised release, 200 hours of community service and pay a $3,800 special assessment.
Leichtnam pleaded guilty Aug. 12 to encouraging and inducing people to enter the United States in violation of law. As part of his plea, Leichtnam admitted that on April 29, the sailing vessel Mazurka, operating with no lights, entered United States waters heading towards Coral Bay on the east end of St. John. The vessel was intercepted by Customs and Border Protection agents who observed Leichtnam operating the vessel and identified 38 Cuban nationals and one St. Lucian national onboard.
CBP agents saw that the vessel was grossly overloaded and did not have a sufficient number of life jackets and life rafts for the number of people onboard. Leichtnam admitted that he has transported people to the United States for financial gain knowing that such conduct is unlawful.
“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 Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands said, “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 noted that many would-be immigrants have lost their lives attempting the trip.
"Human smugglers have a callous disregard for the value of human life and are only concerned about making a profit," Melendez said. "ICE will continue to aggressively work with our U.S. Department of Homeland Security partners to identify and arrest those involved in this illicit and dangerous activity.”
The case was investigated by ICE with the assistance of CBP and the United States Coast Guard. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim L. Chisholm.