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3 men arraigned in smuggling case

From the Associated Press

Three Mexican men were arraigned Friday on charges of smuggling a boatload of illegal immigrants who were rescued from a sinking vessel after more than a day without food or water.

The defendants did not enter pleas during initial court appearances, two days after 11 men and four women were rescued from a sinking 24-foot skipjack 12 miles offshore from San Diego.

Octavio Ruiz Gomez, a 31-year-old mechanical engineer who allegedly piloted the boat, and two others who were aboard -- taxi drivers Jorge Acuna Betancourt, 34, and Jorge Ames Barr, 19 -- were charged with bringing in illegal immigrants for financial gain, a crime punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison if they are convicted.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Anthony Battaglia set bail at $15,000 each and appointed each an attorney.

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If the men post bond, immigration authorities will take custody of them because they are in the U.S. illegally, said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

All three men denied leading the boat and said they were paying passengers, according to investigators. Ames said his two co-defendants were the guides.

Three other Mexican passengers who were being held as witnesses identified the three defendants as the leaders.


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