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Date: 08-18-2021

Case Style:

United States of America v. Victor Alfonso Soto Aguilar and Jose Ramon Geraldo Romero

Case Number: 3:21-cr-01665-JAH

Judge: Karen S. Crawford

Court: United States District Court for the Southern District of California (San Diego County)

Plaintiff's Attorney: United States Attorney’s Office

Defendant's Attorney:

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Description: San Diego, California criminal defense lawyer represented Defendant charged with attempting to bring illegal aliens into the United States with resulting in death.

Victor Alfonso Soto Aguilar and Jose Ramon Geraldo Romero pleaded guilty in federal court in connection with their roles as operators of a panga boat that attempted to smuggle fourteen Mexican citizens into the United States in open ocean waters, ultimately resulting in the death of one passenger.

Soto and Geraldo admitted that they piloted a panga boat loaded with 14 Mexican citizens from Mexico into the United States. As part of their guilty pleas, Soto and Romero admitted that the panga boat was loaded beyond capacity, which resulted in temporary engine failure that caused the boat to stall in open ocean waters in the middle of the night. They further admitted that when they arrived near Marine Street Beach in La Jolla, California, they stopped the boat approximately 80 yards from shore and instructed all 14 passengers to remove their life jackets and jump into the water without regard to whether any of them knew how to swim. They also assured many of the passengers that the water was shallow. One passenger, Rogelio Perez Gutierrez, jumped out of the boat, could not stay afloat, and drowned as a result of the smuggling attempt.

United States Border Patrol, the Coast Guard, and San Diego Lifeguards ultimately responded to this event and rescued a number of individuals who had jumped into the ocean at the direction of Soto and Romero. The other passengers on the panga boat were paying between $12,000 and $15,000 to be brought into the United States; they stated they feared for their lives throughout the ocean journey.

“Another life has been tragically lost as a result of smugglers’ reckless actions,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “Smugglers do not care about the safety of their human cargo. They care only about profits, and the U.S. Attorney’s office is committed to bringing them to justice for these callous crimes.” Grossman commended the excellent work of Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jimmy N. Rotstein, Colin M. McDonald and Victor P. White, and as well as the HSI agents, Coast Guard officers, Border Patrol agents, Customs and Border Protection officers and San Diego Lifeguards, for their efforts in connection with the case.

“What’s really alarming is the callousness of these smugglers and their blatant disregard for the safety of those aboard the vessel,” said HSI San Diego Acting Special Agent in Charge Chad Plantz. “As seen in this case, the criminal networks who profit from these smuggling ventures prioritize profit over the well-being and livelihood of those who hire them. HSI stays committed to working closely with our law enforcement partners and prosecutors to continue to disrupt these illegal smuggling operations and bring to justice, those who violate U.S. law.”

“Callous disregard for the safety of their passengers is a common trait among smugglers,” said Brandon Tucker, Deputy Director of Air Operations for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations in San Diego. “Their actions have consequences for the people they smuggle. They put people in danger, and now, they themselves will face the consequences of their actions.”

“The Coast Guard’s primary concern is the safety of life at sea,” said Capt. Tim Barelli, Sector Commander, USCG Sector San Diego. “This case is just one example of the disregard for human life these smugglers have, and we urge people not to place their lives in the hands of smugglers who ultimately care only about the money they will receive.”

Soto and Romero are scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge John A. Houston on December 13, 2021 at 10:00 a.m.

DEFENDANTS Case Number 21cr1665-JAH

Victor Alfonso Soto Aguilar Age: 37 Mexico

Jose Ramon Geraldo Romero Age: 24 Mexico


Attempted Bringing In at Other Than a Port of Entry Resulting In Death– Title 8, U.S.C., Sections 1324(a)(1)(A)(i), (v)(II), and (a)(1)(B)(iv)

Maximum penalty: Death or life in prison and $250,000 fine

Attempted Bringing In for Financial Gain – Title 8, U.S.C., Section 1324(a)(2)(B)(ii)

Maximum penalty: Fifteen years in prison and $250,000 fine; mandatory minimum of five years in custody


Homeland Security Investigations

Outcome: 08/18/2021 68 Minute Entry for proceedings held before Magistrate Judge Karen S. Crawford: Change of Plea Hearing as to Victor Alfonso Soto Aguilar, Jose Ramon Geraldo Romero held on 8/18/2021. Plea Tendered by Victor Alfonso Soto Aguilar, Jose Ramon Geraldo Romero Guilty on counts 1 and 15-17 of the Indictment. Excludable(s) started as to Victor Alfonso Soto Aguilar, Jose Ramon Geraldo Romero: XK 8/18/21-12/13/21. PSR Ordered. All pending motions withdrawn; Pending hearing dates vacated. Any objections to Findings due within 14 days( Sentence With PSR set for 12/13/2021 10:00 AM before Judge John A. Houston.) (Interpreter Salvador Castellanos). (CD# 8/18/2021 KSC 1010-1036). (Plaintiff Attorney James Rotstein AUSA). (Defendant Attorney Roseline Feral D1 CJA and Paul Barr D2 FD). (ecf) (Entered: 08/18/2021)
08/18/2021 69 CONSENT TO RULE 11 PLEA before Magistrate Judge Karen S. Crawford by Victor Alfonso Soto Aguilar. (jpp) (Entered: 08/18/2021)
08/18/2021 70 PLEA AGREEMENT as to Victor Alfonso Soto Aguilar (jpp) (Entered: 08/18/2021)
08/18/2021 71 FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION of the Magistrate Judge upon a Tendered Plea of Guilty as to Victor Alfonso Soto Aguilar: Recommending that the district judge accept the defendant's plea of guilty.. Signed by Magistrate Judge Karen S. Crawford on 8/18/2021. (jpp) (Entered: 08/18/2021)

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