Florida Woman Faces Charges for Leading 16 People to Drown While Attempting to Escape from Cuba

In November 2022, U.S. authorities reported that a woman from Florida orchestrated an operation to transport Cuban migrants into the United States aboard an overloaded boat, lacking life vests. Tragically, sixteen Cuban passengers lost their lives when the vessel sank approximately 30 miles off Cuba’s coast en route to South Florida, reported by Miami Herald.

Florida woman charged in Cuban migrant smuggling trip that ended with 16  drowning deaths

The U.S. Coast Guard recovered the bodies of four refugees in the Florida Straits, while two survivors revealed the perilous conditions aboard the vessel. Yaqulelin Dominguez-Nieves, 25, is currently held at the Federal Detention Center in Miami on charges related to migrant smuggling during this fatal voyage. Following an arraignment where a judge in Sebring deemed her a flight risk, she was remanded into custody.

Dominguez-Nieves faces a 10-count indictment alleging her involvement in the November 16, 2022 incident resulting in 16 deaths, among other related offenses. Represented by the federal public defender’s office, she potentially faces severe penalties, including life imprisonment or the death penalty, particularly concerning the deaths of three migrants whose bodies were recovered by the Coast Guard.

Despite not being aboard the vessel during the illegal voyage, Dominguez-Nieves’ fate now rests with the Justice Department. Her attorney, Victor Van Dyke, from the public defender’s office, was unavailable for comment.

“The actions of smugglers exploit the aspirations of refugees seeking a better life,” remarked U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe following the arraignment in Miami federal court. “Immigrants are put in perilous situations due to the actions of smugglers.”

Amid worsening economic and political conditions in Cuba, a substantial number of individuals have fled the country in recent fiscal years. U.S. border statistics from October show nearly 425,000 Cubans attempting entry, primarily via Mexico. In fiscal year 2023 alone, U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered 200,287 Cuban arrivals at various U.S. ports, with an additional 224,607 interactions recorded in fiscal year 2022.

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In a separate case involving migrant fatalities, a Bahamian man remains detained in Miami pending extradition. Vandrick Nelson Smith, 33, also known as Muggy and Vans, faces charges for organizing trips from Colombia, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti to South Florida by sea.

Smith’s arrest in March was linked to allegations of planning multiple illicit voyages in 2021 and 2022, one of which resulted in the deaths of five migrants. According to the indictment, on January 22, 2022, several migrants boarded a vessel in the Bahamas for an illegal journey to South Florida, arranged by Smith. Shortly after departure, the boat experienced engine failure and capsized.

Three days later, the Coast Guard discovered the lone surviving migrant clinging to the overturned boat and rescued him, while recovering the bodies of several deceased travelers lost at sea.

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MBS Staff
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