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Feds: Smugglers ferry Chinese migrants to Florida in yachts

Three men are facing human smuggling charges in federal courts in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
For the latest breaking news, check tampabay.com [Tampa Bay Times]
For the latest breaking news, check tampabay.com [Tampa Bay Times]
Published Jan. 17

MIAMI — Authorities have thwarted two separate attempts by smugglers to bring Chinese migrants illegally into the U.S. through Florida aboard yachts.

Three men are facing human smuggling charges in federal courts in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. The Miami Herald first reported they are accused of ferrying a total of 26 Chinese migrants from the Bahamas in two unrelated cases where authorities also confiscated more than $300,000.

It wasn't clear if the Chinese migrants were seeking to stay in South Florida or go elsewhere once they hit land. The Bahamas has imported thousands of Chinese workers to build hotels and other tourist attractions as Beijing invests in development projects throughout beach resorts.

In the most recent detention, the Coast Guard caught 51-year-old Rocco Oppedisano in December piloting a yacht with 14 Chinese passengers and one Bahamian. Authorities confiscated $36,000 and $171,850 Bahamian Dollars, which is on par with the U.S. dollar. The Italian man appeared before a judge Wednesday and is scheduled for arraignment next week. His attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last July, the Coast Guard caught two men attempting to smuggle 12 Chinese migrants in a yacht. Crew member Robert L. McNeil Jr. had initially said they were taking eight Japanese passengers who did not need additional visas to enter the U.S.

Authorities found $118,100 behind wall paneling in the yacht's master bedroom, court records show. The captain, James A. Bradford, told authorities that he never checked to see if the passengers had the required travel documents.

McNeil pleaded guilty to one count of alien smuggling to make a profit. Bradford is awaiting trial in Fort Lauderdale federal court. McNeil’s attorney said she would not comment, and Bradford’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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