Twelve people have been indicted for their alleged roles in a boat-stealing ring that for more than three years targeted luxury vessels in southwest Florida, including at least one boat on Anna Maria Island, according to federal prosecutors.
Nine of the suspects are from Naples; two are from Hialeah; and one is from Homestead.
Ten of the suspects made their initial appearances in federal court in Tampa on Monday and will be arraigned today. They have been charged with conspiracy to transport stolen vessels in foreign commerce, knowing the vessels to have been stolen, along with individual theft charges.
If convicted, each faces five years in federal prison on the conspiracy count and whoever is charged in a particular count of theft will face 10 years for each count in which he is charged.
The remaining two, Heriberto Paez Reyes, 34, of Naples, and Reinier Pereda Montesino, 26, of Hialeah, remain at large, according to a news release.
U.S. Attorney A. Brian Albritton worked with several organizations, including Homeland Security Investigation, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and other federal, state and local agencies to build the case.
“The high level of cooperation among federal, state and local agencies on this major investigation had significantly impacted what was a wide-ranging network of criminals operating from our docks and waterways,” Albritton said in a press release.
The 10 in custody are Rene Blanco Nunez, 42; Remberto Blanco Martinez, 33; Jacqueline Galiano Anesto, 43; Mayque Aguilera Pulido, 30; Angel Alvarez Esquijarosa, 35; Francisco Munoz Cabrera, 29; Douglas Gainza Cespedes, 35; Darinet Molina-Mata, 32; Reynaldo Calatallu Garcia, 37; and Javier Guevara Fernandez, 36.
According to the Department of Justice, there were 11 stolen vessels that have been linked to this ring thus far. The boats were taken between June 2007 and August 2010.
Among the vessels targeted was a 30-foot Grady White owned by Eleanor Kern and her husband Thomas Kern on Anna Maria Island in October 2009, and a 42-foot Sea Ray taken from the 4100 block of Cortez Road in August.
“It’s a sad world when you have to worry about someone stealing from you, you feel violated,” said Eleanor Kern, a part-time island resident who was not home during the incident.
She said she was glad to hear of the indictment.
“I don’t feel sorry for them,” Kern said.
The vessel was returned to the couple after Reyes, Pulido, Esquijarosa, Cadrera and Garcia attempted to steal the boat from a dock where they were met by law enforcement. After a pursuit they got away by jumping into the water.
The boat suffered about $8,000 worth of damage, Eleanor Kern said.
“They had to shoot at the motor to get the boat to stop because it was headed to the Gulf,” she said. “But we got it back.”
The attorney’s office has not said how the men were using the stolen vessels.
Dave Bristow, sheriff’s office spokesman, cautions boat owners to take the same precautions for their boat as they would with a car.
“First of all, don’t keep anything on the boat like keys, just like a car,” Bristow said. “Have security in the dock and lighting, that sort of thing.”
As for those who keep their boats in their yards, he suggests finding a way to hide it, or lessen its visibility.
Since her incident, Kern has purchased an alarm system for her boat, and said even though she got her property back, she still has not regained a sense of security.
“This is a different world, isn’t it? We’ve been on the island for 44 years and this is the first time something like this has happened,” Kern said. “I’ve always felt safe on Anna Maria and they took away that feeling.”
Anyone with information about the thefts or the fugitives should call the ICE tip line at (866) DHS-2-ICE.