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Florida Keys News
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Accused boat runner faces 10 years

A man accused by federal agents of running from them July 23 south of Marathon with a boat loaded with fuel barrels, food and water has been indicted and faces up to 10 years in prison, according to court records.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents claim Yohan Vales -- court records only state he was born in 1976 -- was indicted on charges of failure to heave to a vessel and making a materially false statement. Both carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Vales was arraigned in Key West before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lurana Snow, who set his bail at $100,000.

The government opposed Vales' motion to have his bond reduced on Thursday. Prosecutors argued that Vales should be held at a high bond because: • Vales was on a pretrial intervention program in Pinellas County stemming from a felony arrest for the unlawful conveyance of fuel, whereupon he agreed not to leave that county or break any laws;

• The allegation against Vales "reflects a conscious disregard for the law and authority" in that he allegedly disregarded CBP agents and forced them to fire a warning shot in order to get him to stop;

• The "weight of the evidence against Vales is considerable" in that Vales was under surveillance prior to the chase;

• Vales has access to money as he has traveled to Mexico and Venezuela last year, which also suggests he has "significant international contacts."

As of Tuesday, Snow had yet to rule on the bail motion.

Vales is accused of failure to stop at 9:55 p.m. July 23 after agents chased him about 11 miles south of Marathon. Agents eventually fired warning shots at the 31-foot vessel. Vales then stopped.

When agents searched the boat. they allegedly found 18 15-gallon fuel drums, one 30-gallon fuel drum, a transfer hose, two cellphones, a satellite phone card, 34 bottles of water, 36 cans of soda, 16 submarine sandwiches, hamburger rolls, bread, three pounds of bologna, and a bag of string cheese.

Such provisions are typical among those partaking in migrant smuggling, but the seven-page information sheet filed by the agents makes no mention of such conduct.

Vales was taken to Coast Guard Station Marathon, where he denied refusing to stop for the federal agents who had their blue lights and sirens on, records state.

Vales told interviewers the boat's owner hired him to take the boat to Cancun, Mexico. Vales told the agents the owner picked him up in Homestead, and the suspect vessel was already loaded with its contents at that time, records state.

Vales told agents he and the owner then drove the boat to a marina in Marathon, where Vales launched and began making his way for Mexico, records state.

He also claimed to have dropped the boat's GPS in the water while agents were handcuffing him.

Agents, on the other hand, reported that they watched water and fuel drums being loaded on the boat prior to Vales leaving the marina, according to records.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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