A Haitian man was charged with human smuggling Monday after federal authorities accused him of piloting a boat overloaded with migrants that capsized off Florida's coast, killing at least nine people, including a pregnant woman.
Jimmy Metellus, 33, is scheduled to appear in federal court Wednesday on charges of smuggling that caused the death of another person. Court records did not list an attorney for him Monday. A conviction could result in the death penalty or a life prison sentence.
Metellus, a Haitian citizen who also has permanent U.S. resident status, was among 16 people rescued when the boat capsized early last Wednesday off Boynton Beach, about 60 miles north of Miami. Most of the survivors — 15 Haitians and one Jamaican — will be deported to their home countries under U.S. policy.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the dead included two men, six women and an infant. Authorities also issued a separate death certificate for the pregnant woman's 8-month-old unborn fetus. Two women and a baby remained hospitalized Monday, and the other survivors were in immigration custody. Five people are listed as missing.
"ICE strongly discourages people from taking to the seas and attempting to illegally enter the United States through maritime means," said Anthony Mangione, chief of the ICE Office of Investigations in Miami. "Tragically, many have lost their lives while attempting this illegal and treacherous trip."
Hired by man named 'Shine'
According to an ICE agent, Metellus told investigators he was hired by a man known only as "Shine" to pilot the vessel from the Bahamas to the U.S. with about 30 undocumented migrants aboard. The affidavit says Metellus was offered $6,000 for the trip but decided instead to be paid with free passage on the boat.
"He said that the boat was going to Miami, Florida, and that he was going to beach it in Miami and leave it," ICE agent Jon Longo said in the affidavit.
Metellus also told the agent he had lost his U.S. residency card during a hurricane in Haiti and didn't know how to get a replacement. Metellus said he has seven children in Haiti.
One survivor, who identified Metellus as the boat's captain, told agents that his brother had paid the smugglers $4,000 for him to make the ill-fated trip. It was unclear in the affidavit how many other people were involved in the smuggling operation, and investigators still are not certain what caused the boat to overturn and sink about 15 miles off Florida's coast.
That survivor, who was not identified, said the boat ran out of fuel after leaving Nassau, Bahamas, and drifted for about three days until a small boat arrived with more fuel. The migrants then were taken to a house in Bimini, Bahamas, and later set off for Florida's southeastern coast.
The survivor said he had been in the Bahamas for five months waiting for a smuggling trip to the U.S., according to the ICE affidavit.