Coast Guard Investigative Service, Coast Guard Marine Safety Office Miami and Immigration and Naturalization Service agents teamed up to crack two cases of merchant marine document fraud out of Miami July 3.
The agencies served and executed search warrants at two locations on the Miami River, helping agents to collect evidence in support of an eight month CGIS investigation; resulting in a series of arrests.
The documents seized during this operation included medical certifications, Standards for Training Certification and Watchstanders, employment letters that stated individuals were employees of maritime companies to help obtain U.S. work visas at American consulates abroad, visa letters, stamps used to falsely certify mariners' medical examinations, computer records and various levels of mariners licenses, including masters, electricians and mates. These documents were generally Panamanian, Colombian and Honduran in national origin. More than $102,000 in cash was also seized.
The investigation began in November 2001 and focused on two shipping agents operating on the Miami River. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami authorized the arrest of Freddy Alvaredo and Julio Gonzalez. Both were subsequently charged with: 18 USC 1001, False Official Statements, and Gonzalez was also charged with 8 USC 1324, Alien Smuggling. Violations of 18 U.S.C. 1001 are punishable by five years imprisonment while violations of 8 U.S.C. are punishable by a maximum of 10 years imprisonment. The defendants were released on percentage bonds. Arraignment for both men will be Aug. 5.
Special Agent in Charge Jim DeVino of the Coast Guard Investigative Service said, "We expect that the results of this investigation will have a tremendous impact on stemming the illegal flow of fraudulent foreign merchant mariner documents
in South Florida. We view this case as highly successful, from both a criminal investigative and a Homeland Security perspective, and appreciate the cooperative effort put forth by INS, the U.S. Attorneys Office, and the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office Miami.
The investigation strikes a blow to a problem plaguing marine safety offices across the country. The success of this investigation, search warrant operation and subsequent arrests is due to the contributions of each agency involved.