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Elderly Frenchman Pleads Guilty To 38 Counts Of Migrant Smuggling



CHARLOTTE AMALIE – An elderly Frenchman pleaded guilty to more than three dozen counts of migrant smuggling in federal court Wednesday, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

A statement from U.S. Attorney Ronald Sharpe said Alain Rene Leichtnam, 71,  pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in St. Thomas to charges related to migrant smuggling.

Agents with several U.S. law enforcement agencies intercepted his catamaran Makurka heading towards Coral Bay on the East End of St. John in early hours of April 29.

“ICE continues to be committed to putting an end to the practice of profiting from the illegal transportation of aliens across our borders and throughout our country,” said Angel Melendez, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “We will continue to vigorously enforce the federal laws which punish the many manifestations of the complex problem of smuggling, trafficking and harboring illegal aliens.”

They said Leichtnam was operating the vessel with 38 Cubans and one St. Lucian aboard. None of the passengers had any documents allowing them to enter U.S. territorial waters.

Leichtnam was remanded to the custody of the United States Marshals Service pending sentencing, which is scheduled for December 4. The French citizen faces up to 10 years in prison.

“Those responsible for encouraging and inducing immigrants to enter the United States illegally are placing personal profit ahead of public safety and the lives of the immigrants,” Sharpe said. “This conviction should warn those involved in this dangerous and illegal activity that it comes with a high price.”

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) team said the people making money smuggling human beings into the territory are lacking in human concern.

“Tragically, many have lost their lives while attempting this illegal and treacherous trip,” Melendez said. “Human smugglers have a callous disregard for the value of human life and are only concerned about making a profit. ICE will continue to aggressively work with our U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) partners to identify and arrest those involved in this illicit and dangerous activity.”

The case was investigated by ICE with the assistance of CBP and the USCG. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kim Chisholm.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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