By Brett Clarkson, Sun Sentinel

6:30 p.m. EDT, September 28, 2012

The instructions to the captain were simple: dock the boat at Pioneer Park in Deerfield Beach and walk away.

If all had gone according to plan, Batista De Morais Neto and the 10 other Brazilians aboard the 26-foot Robalo fishing boat would have made it into the United States.

Instead, according to criminal complaints filed in federal court, special agents aboard a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol vessel intercepted the migrants. Each of them had paid thousands of dollars to be smuggled from the Bahamas to South Florida.

At least three of them had already been deported, investigators found. Among them, Tiago Lopes De Passos, who had been sent back to Brazil less than a month earlier, on Aug. 21. De Passos told agents he paid $3,200 for the trip and was headed to Philadelphia because that's where his family members lived.

The bust happened Sept. 16, when agents aboard a Border Patrol plane watched as a boat churned through the Atlantic from Freeport.

The boat made it as far as 2 nautical miles east of the Boynton Beach inlet. There, it was intercepted by a Border Patrol vessel.

Agents boarded the Robalo. They found Neto acting as captain, with 10 other Brazilians on board.

The case is one more example of foreign nationals trying to enter the United States illegally from the waters surrounding Florida, authorities say. In many cases, what happens to them after they enter the U.S. is anyone's guess.

Authorities say that, in general, their fates are uncertain at best.

According to Elee Erice, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, there were 64 known illegal maritime landings in South Florida between Oct. 1, 2011 and Aug. 31, 2012. Those cases have involved 412 migrants.

Coast Guard migrant interceptions — called interdictions — are up in September, with 344 people from various countries stopped so far this month, the highest total for the past 12 months. That's up from 102 in August, 115 in July and 186 in June, according to Coast Guard figures.

In the incident involving the Brazilians on Sept. 16, agents found that the migrants had no legal documentation to enter the U.S.

Those migrants were brought aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Bluefin and ultimately taken to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol station in Riviera Beach.

Neto told agents his smuggling fee was $16,000, according to the criminal complaints, which were filed by a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations.

Part of Neto's fee had already been paid to somebody in Brazil named "Aender," who asked Neto to take the helm of the boat, agents were told. For doing so, Neto's reward would be lower monthly payments of his smuggling fee.

According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, one of the signs of human trafficking is a victim's salary being garnished to pay for smuggling fees. In this case, there was no immediate indication of human trafficking, even though human smuggling is alleged.

ICE makes a clear distinction between smuggling and trafficking, defining trafficking cases as "exploitation-based" and smuggling cases as "transportation-based."

Neto's instructions were to drop the Brazilians off at a Lantana boat ramp, where they would be picked up by an unknown person. He was told to then dock the boat at Pioneer Park in Deerfield Beach and walk away. The park, off Northeast 2nd Street at North Dixie Highway, runs along the Intracoastal Waterway.

Neto is charged with bringing in and harboring illegal immigrants.

Also charged in the case were Estefano Rosa Hornung and Jose Valdivino Pereira. Each is facing one count of illegal re-entry of a removed immigrant.

Pereira told agents he'd paid $14,000 to somebody named Sidney in Brazil to be smuggled into the United States, according to court records.

Hornung said he was headed to New Jersey and was to pay $17,000 to Aender, the same name mentioned by Neto.

Hornung had already been deported in 2005, and Pereira was removed in 2009.

The status of the other Brazilians was not clear.

Brazilian, Haitian migrants headed for Florida intercepted at sea - South Florida