Sunday, May 18, 2008

Alva man new breed of accused smuggler (News-Press)

Alva man new breed of accused smuggler

BY PAT GILLESPIE • • May 18, 2008

Smugglers of Cubans often have a connection to the people they're trying to bring into the country.

Frequently, they are charging money to bring family members or friends hoping for freedom from communism from Cuba to Florida.

Usually, the smugglers are of Cuban descent, prosecutors say.

But one man stands out in the recent case of 28 Cubans who landed on Upper Captiva Island on April 21. Patrick Cochrane is from Alva.

He's charged with aiding a smuggling operation by allegedly bringing fuel to a speed boat filled with more than two dozen refugees.

"He didn't realize the far-reaching scope of it," said Cochrane's attorney, Joseph Viacava of Fort Myers. "He's a fine, upstanding citizen who made one poor decision."

But Cochrane, 38, now faces up to 10 years in prison per Cuban. He is on house arrest and $100,000 bond, having used his property on Old Rodeo Drive to secure the bond.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jesus Casas said Cochrane's case will likely result in a plea agreement in the next few weeks, but said he can't discuss the case while it is active. Cochrane declined to speak for this article, but said he would talk after the case is resolved.

"I can't talk until it's over," he said. "I'll definitely talk when it's done."

It appears from a complaint filed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement senior special agent Kathryn Dellane Mangone that Cochrane was the most forthcoming of his co-defendants.
Cochrane, according to the document, rented a boat trailer in March and picked up a 38-foot boat from the Islamorada area. He drove it back to Alva with one of his co-defendants and two others.

On April 14, co-defendant Luis Marcelino Perez, along with co-defendants Pedro Diaz-Enriquez and Pedro Jose Canals-Valdez, brought 20 drums of fuel to Cochrane's Alva house, he told ICE agents. Four days later, the four defendants met the 38-foot boat off the coast and loaded it with fuel, though the documents don't clarify who was operating the boat.

On April 20, Perez and Canals received phone calls from the smuggling vessel, getting word the boat was being chased by Cuban authorities and would need more fuel because of the alternate route used to evade Cuban officials.

Cochrane, with Perez, Diaz-Enriquez and Canals-Valdez, drove to a gas station in North Fort Myers and filled seven gas containers, bringing them to the 38-foot boat. The boat, containing about 30 people, was about 20 miles offshore of Florida. On the way back to land, Cochrane's boat ran out of fuel and was intercepted by U.S. Coast Guard officers.

Perez and Canals-Valdez gave different statements about their involvement with Cochrane, saying they had picked up fishing bait and beer and were recreating. Cochrane also identified two other men - Yasmani Rodriguez-Triana and Frank Sesma-Bague - as being on the 38-foot boat with about 30 Cuban refugees. Both men are charged with lying to ICE agents.

Cochrane lives in a white, two-story Colonial style house in the wide-open Alva community in Lee County. He owns more than 20 acres in the county, according to public records.

The 29-foot boat he used, named "No Wife," signifies a recent change in his life.

Divorce from his most recent wife, Renee Cochrane, was finalized March 7. The two were married in 2002.

Cochrane has two boys - Cody, 13, and Blaze, 9 - with his first wife, who died in a car accident years ago, Viacava said.

Patrick Cochrane picked up a charge of grand theft in 1992 and pled to the charge the same year. He was sentenced to a year of probation.

Viacava said Cochrane fell into a depression after his wife's death, which contributed to this brush with the law.

Efforts to reach Renee Cochrane, who now lives in Cape Coral, were unsuccessful.

"He's completely remorseful and his goal is to restore his family name and do everything he can to rectify the situation," Viacava said. "He's doing everything he can."

According to divorce documents, Patrick Cochrane used to work for Midwestern Power Lines, as a power line maintenance worker. He earned about $91,000 per year, less taxes.

Viacava said Cochrane now is working for his brother.

Patrick Cochrane owns $1.7 million in property in Alva and Wisconsin. According to the divorce papers, Cochrane owned a 1998 Dodge Viper, a 2005 Hummer, a 2005 GMC Yukon and two boats in 2007. He estimated his net worth as $1.4 million.

Per the divorce agreement, Renee Cochrane got $50,000 and the Hummer and was released from all other debts.

Cochrane has never been to Cuba and has no Cuban ancestry, Viacava said, which separates him from most Cuban smugglers.

A common thread in Cuban smuggling cases in this area, Casas said, is that refugees who make land then become smugglers. Cubans who make their way to Miami turn around and try to transport relatives or friends to the United States.

In April 2005, court documents revealed that Yoel Bermudez was found guilty at trial of conspiracy to smuggle and smuggling in Cuban refugees. One of the people smuggled into Loggerhead Key was his wife, Marisely Hernandez-Perez. In August 2006, Juan Gonzalez-Hernandez was arrested in Collier County for smuggling. His wife and daughter were on the boat.

Casas said Gonzalez-Hernandez was smuggled into the country in 2005 and approached his co-defendant Noel Lopez to help him bring his family to America. Lopez, too, was smuggled into the country in 1999.

"The offense as it relates only to smuggling of Cubans tends to be one where individuals that are smuggled in eventually work toward or become involved in the smuggling of their families," Casas said.

And as far as Casas can remember, the smugglers who use Southwest Florida for dropping off Cubans originate from the east coast of Florida.

"The individuals who have been charged with the offenses have been exclusively from the Miami area," he said.

Viacava said Cochrane was just trying to make some quick money.

"He wound up just providing some fuel," Viacava said. "He is the classic situation that was enticed by some quick, easy money."

But despite the choice to fill up a speedboat with fuel, Viacava said Cochrane just wants to get the situation behind him.

"He accepts full responsibility," he said. "It's my ultimate goal to make the sentence fit the crime."

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