Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Miami man sentenced to 14 1/2 years in prison for extorting migrants in a smuggling operation of Cubans

Miami man sentenced to 14 1/2 years in prison for extorting migrants in
a smuggling operation of Cubans
11/10/2014 10:38 PM 11/10/2014 10:58 PM

A Miami man was sentenced Monday to 14 1/2 years in prison for extorting
migrants in a smuggling operation that transported more than 1,000
Cubans off the island. Among those fleeing to the United States were up
to two dozen Cuban baseball players, who were forced to pay more than
the standard fee of $10,000 per passenger.

Eliezer "El Chicharo" Lazo, who is currently serving five years for
money laundering in a Medicare fraud scheme, appeared in U.S. District
Court in Miami wearing shackles and an inmate's uniform and asked for
leniency from Judge Joan Lenard, citing his cooperation with authorities
in the case.

But Lenard ruled that Lazo's role in both crimes prevented her from
handing down the lesser sentence of 99 months that he asked for.

"These are two distinct and separate offenses but both are
extraordinarily serious and have a tremendous impact on our community,"
she said.

Lazo's attorney, William Clay, said Lenard sent a deterring message to
smugglers who actually have many "happy customers who got what they
bargained for — they got into the U.S."

"The whole notion of smuggling Cuban aliens is fraught with mixed
messages," Clay said. "She wanted to make a strong statement to the
South Florida community about the smuggling of Cubans — to the smugglers
themselves, to the paying families who are good-hearted conspirators and
even to the people who get on the boat and are conspirators, too."

Lazo, 41, pleaded guilty in August to his role starting in 2008 in a
smuggling ring run by Joan "Nacho" Garcia, who was killed in 2009, Clay
said. Lazo supplied and did repairs on two boats that took Cubans to
Cancun, Mexico, from where they made their way to the U.S. border. He
collected payments from migrants and their relatives in Miami. He was
paid a salary of $22,000 a month.

Among those smuggled out of Cuba was baseball player Leonys Martin, now
an outfielder for the Texas Rangers. While most passengers were charged
$10,000 for the journey to Mexico, Martin alleges in a civil case that
he and his family were held against their will until he paid
$1.35million of his $20million Rangers contract to a Mexican company run
by Lazo and others.

Prosecutor Ron Davidson said the most "horrifying" aspect of the
operation was not what happened to the baseball players or the migrants
who arranged to be picked up but to about 100 so-called "party-crashers"
who simply got on the boats without making any down payments or
agreements with the smugglers.

Garcia was caught in a "squeeze play" with the party-crashers, Clay
said, because the Mexican drug cartel that controlled Cancun's port, the
Zetas, demanded payment of $3,000 per head and $10,000 per boat.

"Nacho still has to pay the Zetas, who are killers, but the
party-crashers have not prearranged to pay," Clay said.

The party-crashers were mistreated at a stash house in Mexico, Davidson

"They were threatened, beaten, restrained," he said. "There were calls
to relatives in the middle of the night — 'Uncle, please help me, give
them the money.'

"Mr. Lazo was not making those threats but he picked up payments and
directed others to pick up payments. He could have walked away but he
decided to promote the conspiracy out of greed."

Lazo, who must also forfeit $1,499,000 from the operation that grossed
between $800,000 to $1.5 million, apologized to the court, his family
and Yilian Hernandez, who faces trial for collecting and delivering

"She was my girlfriend and I asked her a favor," he said.

Although Lazo did not harm migrants, the abuse they suffered was
"reasonably foreseeable" to him, Lenard said as she announced his sentence.

"There's a new trend in this country when it comes to alien smuggling
compared to the days of the Mariel boatlift when we argued that captains
did not violate the law by depositing Cubans on the docks in Key West
and the captains went free," Clay said. "The government is prosecuting
cases differently now: They've looked into the statute book and said
they can fit extortion and kidnapping charges into these cases."

Source: Miami man sentenced to 14 1/2 years in prison for extorting
migrants in a smuggling operation of Cubans | The Miami Herald -

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