WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - A 67-year-old man smuggled 18 Haitians into Palm Beach County last week, dropping them near Palm Beach in exchange for thousands of dollars, federal agents said.
Thomas Alan Joerger now faces a federal charge of bringing in and harboring certain aliens for the purpose of commercial advantage or private gain, according to court documents filed Monday.
Around 2:45 p.m. last Friday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents received a call from Palm Beach Police that they had 18 Haitians - 15 adults and three children - in custody who were dropped off near North Ocean Boulevard and Eden Road.
The Haitians were taken into custody by Border Patrol for further investigation.
Around the same time Friday, a resident called the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office with a description and registration number of the boat which the Haitians allegedly traveled on.
Joerger and his boat - a 33-foot white Wellcraft - were found in the Lake Worth Inlet. The boat is registered to Joerger at an address located in Milton, Fla., according to a federal criminal complaint.
After being taken into custody, Joerger told investigators that he rescued the illegal people from a sinking ship about 60 miles from the U.S. coast. But he was found with $3,661, and 725 in Bahamian currency on him.
He admitted to bringing the Haitians into the country, and said "had he known the area was this nice he would have dropped the Haitians at a different location," the complaint says.
He then told investigators that he didn't know the people were Haitian, and thought they were from the Bahamas because he couldn't understand what they were saying.
Two of the Haitians told investigators that Joerger did indeed know they were Haitian, and not legally allowed in the country. They also said Joerger charged them between $2,000 and $3,000 per adult and $1,000 per child to be smuggled. And that arrangements were made for the captain to pick them up in Abaco, Bahamas, the complaint says.
The two then positively identified Joerger out of a photo line-up.