3 men arraigned in smuggling case
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.
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.