Saturday, February 25, 2012

Human Trafficking: Five Charged for Conspiracy to Extort Relatives of Smuggled Cuban Migrants

U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Florida

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; Alysa Erichs, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI), Miami Field Office; John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office; and Addy Villanueva, Special Agent in Charge, Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), announce the unsealing of a four-count indictment charging Yandrys Leon, 35, Yadira Leon Placias, 25, both of Jennings, Florida, Manuel Bernal, 46, of Tampa, Florida, Oscar A. Morera Torres, 44, and Jose A. Fernandez, 42, both of Miami, with conspiring to commit extortion in connection with the illegal smuggling of Cuban migrants from Mexico into the United States. Three of the defendants have been arrested. If convicted, the defendants each face a possible maximum statutory sentence of 20 years in prison.

A joint investigation by ICE-HSI, FBI, and FDLE led law enforcement to Leon and Leon Placias after relatives of Cuban migrants notified law enforcement that the migrants were being held in Mexico for ransom after departing Cuba en route to the United States. The indictment charges all five defendants with conspiring to commit extortion through the wrongful use of actual and threatened force, violence and fear. In addition, Leon, Bernal, Morera Torres, and Fernandez are each charged with making telephone calls with the intent to extort money.

Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the ICE-HSI, FBI, and FDLE. Mr. Ferrer also thanked U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), Area 5 for their assistance in this investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John D. Couriel and Elisa Castrolugo.

An indictment is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.