News Release
March 11, 2008

Human Smuggler Pleads Guilty to Deaths in Failed Smuggling Venture

MAR 11 -- Mark R. Trouville, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) , Miami Field Division, R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and Anthony V. Mangione, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), announced that defendant Leon Brice Johnson pled guilty on February 29, 2008, to one count of conspiracy to smuggle aliens, three counts of alien smuggling resulting in death, and two counts of conspiracy to import controlled substances into the United States, in connection with his participation in two smuggling ventures from the Bahamas to Jupiter Island. Johnson is facing a maximum sentence of 5 life sentences on these charges.

According to the Government’s proffer at the plea hearing, defendants Rickey Thompson and Leon Brice Johnson arranged for two separate smuggling trips – one in August 2006 and a second in December 2006. During each trip, the defendants transported a group of illegal aliens and narcotics, from Freeport, Bahamas, to Jupiter Island, aboard Thompson’s 33 foot speed boat. The aliens paid Thompson fees ranging from $1,500 to $4,000 for the trip and were assured that Thompson would drop them off on the beach or in water no higher than their ankles. During both trips, Thompson drove the boat without lights to avoid detection and made frequent stops whenever he believed he saw or heard a Coast Guard vessel. On each occasion, when the boat approached Jupiter Island, Thompson idled the boat in deep, rough waters and ordered the aliens off the boat. Each time, there were aliens aboard the boat who could not swim and who asked to remain on the boat. Ignoring their protests, the defendants ordered the aliens off the boat at gun point. Two aliens drowned during the August trip and one during the December trip. The defendants also transported narcotics, including more than 5 kilograms of cocaine, 1.8 kilograms of heroin and marijuana during the two trips.

Mr. Acosta commended the investigative efforts of the the DEA , ICE, Martin County Sheriff’s Office, Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, U.S. Border Patrol, Jupiter Island Police Department, and Tequesta Police Department for their investigation of this matter.