Man Accused in Haitian Smugglings That Resulted In 4 Deaths
MIAMI (AP) _ An American was arrested Thursday on charges of attempting to smuggle 27 Haitians into the United States, including four who drowned.
A federal grand jury returned the indictment charging Richard Bennett Barker with conspiracy to smuggle illegal aliens and 27 separate counts of alien smuggling.
Barker, 43, was arrested in West Palm Beach, the FBI said. He was scheduled to appear before a magistrate Friday.
The Haitians arrived Feb. 8 aboard a 31-foot vessel from Freeport, Bahamas, and were dropped in the surf off Hutchinson Island. Two of the four who drowned were children.
The 23 others were caught by police and U.S. Border Patrol agents before being released to church organizations. Most were expected to resettle with relatives in south Florida.
″I assure any profiteers who believe that they can exploit the situation that the law enforcement community will not tolerate their reprehensible conduct,″ U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey said at a news conference announcing the indictment.
Barker faces a maximum of 140 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on each count, Coffey said.
The Martin County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the drowning deaths of Ermanite Joseph and Rene Chauvette, and the children, Justin Jean-Baptiste, 7, and Kenol Louis, 6, said sheriff’s Detective John Silvas.
Coffey said that after unloading the Haitians, Barker went to West Palm Beach where he checked in with U.S. Customs, telling agents he had traveled alone from the Bahamas.
Growing numbers of Haitians living in the Bahamas have attempted the hazardous trip to Florida in recent months, crowding aboard unsafe vessels. On Sunday, a Florida-bound boat crowded with 40 Haitians sank near Abaco Island in the Bahamas. More than 30 people are feared dead, including 11 children.