SAN DIEGO — A boat captain who rammed a U.S. Coast Guard vessel off Southern California after smuggling a dozen people into the country was sentenced Wednesday to five years in federal prison.
Jesus Jeovanny Alcaraz-Valdez was sentenced in San Diego for the December 2022 incident by a judge who called his actions “extremely reckless and extremely troubling," the U.S. attorney's office said in a statement.
Alcaraz piloted a panga boat — a small, fishing-style vessel often used by human smugglers — to illegally bring an estimated 12 people into the United States from Mexico, prosecutors said.
The immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala paid up to $24,000 each for the trip, authorities said.
The boat brought them before dawn near the coast off the San Diego seaside suburb of Coronado, where Alcaraz told them to take off their life jackets and enter waist-deep surf even though some couldn't swim, the U.S. attorney's office said.
Eight people were taken into custody by the U.S. Border Patrol. Four others escaped.
The boat was then seen heading back out to sea towards Mexico. When a Coast Guard vessel tried to stop it, Alcaraz rammed the boat twice, shattering a window and causing minor back and neck injuries to all four people aboard, authorities said.
Alcaraz was arrested after Coast Guard gunshots disabled the panga's engine.
He pleaded guilty to assault and human smuggling in March.
“Maritime smuggling is extremely dangerous and puts the lives of the passengers being smuggled, and the law enforcement officers safeguarding our borders, at serious risk,” U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said in a statement.