I.C.E. News Release



French national pleads guilty to 30 counts of alien smuggling

ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands – A French national pleaded guilty Aug. 12 in District Court to counts one through 38 of an indictment charging him with alien smuggling. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), working jointly with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Coast Guard, investigated the case.

According to court records, Alain Rene Leichtnam, 71, was arrested April 29 when CBP and Coast Guard assets intercepted a sailing vessel heading toward Coral Bay in St. John, Virgin Islands. CBP agents observed Leichtnam operating the vessel and identified 38 Cuban nationals and one national of St. Lucia onboard. Leichtnam admitted that he transported the Cuban nationals to the United States for financial gain knowing that such conduct was illegal.

“HSI 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 M. Melendez, special agent in charge of HSI in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.

“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. Tragically, many have lost their lives while attempting this illegal and treacherous trip. Human smugglers have a callous disregard for the value of human life and are only concerned about making a profit. HSI 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.”

Leichtnam was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service to await sentencing slated for Dec. 4.

ICE has embarked on an ambitious strategy to dismantle organized human smuggling networks. First, ICE pursues intelligence-driven investigations to target large-scale smuggling organizations regardless of where they operate.

Particular emphasis is placed on smuggling rings that pose a national security risk, jeopardize lives or engage in violence, abuse, hostage-taking or extortion. Second, ICE coordinates with partners at CBP to ensure aggressive investigation and prosecution of smuggling cases along the border. Third, ICE targets all links in the smuggling chain, beyond the immediate smugglers. For example, ICE seeks to target the overseas recruiters and organizers, the fraudulent document vendors, and the transportation and employment networks that benefit from alien smuggling within the United States. Finally, ICE will pursue legislation to increase penalties against organized smugglers and provide additional criminal offenses to better address spotters who assist criminals with smuggling aliens and contraband.