Two men arrested in October after fleeing from a Coast Guard cutter 30 miles south of Key West were found guilty in federal court this week after a jury deliberated for just 15 minutes.
Coast Guard Keys commanding officer Capt. Al Young said after their arrest that he was highly suspicious that Antonio Rodriguez, a U.S. citizen, and Ricardo Gonzalez-Solorzano, a legal resident, were involved in smuggling after both were captured on personal watercrafts outfitted with GPS, as well as extra drinking water and gas cans.
"The evidence that led to their motivation for fleeing from the Coast Guard was overwhelming," Paul Shultz, Coast Guard Investigative Service Agent, said. "There were satellite phone calls made to Cuba as well as excessive amount of gasoline. They were 30 miles offshore on jet skis with no fishing gear and an excessive amount of life jackets."
Both men were charged with failure to heave to after the Coast Guard had to chase the men down in September.
"Failure to heave to is like the Coast Guard version of fleeing and eluding," Shultz said.
Both men face a maximum of five years in federal prison when they are sentenced before U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez on March 26 at the Sidney M. Aronovitz courthouse, 301 Simonton St.
The men were accused of migrant smuggling, but not formally charged of that crime.
"That accusation was made during the trial," Shultz said.
The men were well into the Gulf Stream when they were stopped after a 45-minute chase. In the Gulf Stream, even a one-foot chop can hinder a personal watercraft, but the Coast Guard has had cases in the past of such vessels making the run to Cuba, Shultz said.
They were stopped by the new fast-response cutter Margaret Norvell that is typically based in Miami, but was in Key West training as the new ships continue to come online throughout the Coast Guard fleet in South Florida, as well as nationwide.