Head of operation that smuggled Cubans into U.S. gets 20 years

A federal judge handed a Miami-Dade County man a 20-year prison sentence Wednesday for being the mastermind of an immigrant smuggling operation.

U.S. District Court Judge Jose Martinez handed down the sentence in Key West to Antonio Comin, 56. Comin was convicted of 50 counts of encouraging and inducing aliens to enter the United States, 47 counts of alien smuggling for private financial gain and one count of bringing an aggravated felon into the U.S.

Evidence at trial showed headed an extensive organization that conspired to smuggle Cuban nationals into the United States for profit. In January 2012, the group successfully brought 29 Cuban nationals onto Big Munson Island in the Lower Keys following a high-speed chase with the U.S. Coast Guard. They grounded their boat on the island.

Of the 29 Cubans, one, Rogelio Martin-Hernandez, had been previously deported back to Cuba after serving 22 years in prison for cocaine trafficking.

In September 2012, another smuggling venture was attempted; however, the vessel ran out of gas near Cay Sal Bank, Bahamas. An attempt by Comin and his cohorts to save that trip was thwarted when a second vessel, carrying additional gas, broke down less than two miles from the smuggling vessel.

The occupants of both vessels, including four co-defendants of Comin and 21 Cuban nationals, were rescued by the Coast Guard.

Seven co-defendants received prison but far less time than Comin.