Prison friendship lands San Antonio man in jail on smuggling charges

A San Antonio man failed to convince U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers last Friday that he was guiding passengers on a $500 fishing trip off the coast near Kenedy County.

One of the big clues for agents with CBP’s Air & Marine Operations that James Joseph Crescente was lying was the glaring absence of bait, and that no one was actually fishing when CBP encountered the 22-foot Bay Stealth 2230 federal authorities say Crescente was piloting, according to a criminal complaint.

Instead, the agents determined all six people on the vessel were in the country illegally and that Crescente, a U.S. citizen, was attempting to smuggle them north.

The encounter occurred at 9:40 a.m. Friday when the agents were conducting maritime duties and spotted the vessel. They agents decided to conduct a routine document check, according to the complaint.

“While approaching the boat … agents initially observed five individuals and upon closer inspection … agents noticed at least two individuals laying down in the boat, as if they were trying to conceal themselves,” the complaint read.

Three of the people were Mexican nationals, while the three others were from Honduras.

“Additionally … agents observed there to be only four flotation devices on the vessel. During this field interview, Crescente claimed to be guiding the passengers on a $500 fishing trip,” the complaint said. “… Agents observed no one to be fishing at the time of the encounter; and observed there to be no fishing bait on the boat.”

The agents detained Crescente and he provided a post-Miranda statement to Homeland Security Investigations and Border Patrol special agents.

The complaint said Crescente told authorities he took a bus from San Antonio to Harlingen on Oct. 11 and met with a friend whom he had met while serving time in a Beaumont prison.

When he arrived in Harlingen, he and his friend discussed transporting people in the country illegally through waterways from Port Mansfield to Baffin Bay, according to the complaint, which said Crescente claimed his friend would pay him $1,000 per person.

“Crescente claims that he and his friend had traveled early in the week to an unknown residence south of Harlingen, Texas and met up with an unknown female,” the complaint said. “At this residence, Crescente claims to have observed approximately twenty (20) people within the house.”

The complaint goes on to say that last Wednesday, Crescente, his friend and his friend’s girlfriend went out for dinner.

“At one point, his friend departed,” the complaint stated.

After finishing dinner, Crescente’s friend arrived with people who were in the country illegally and told him that this was his money, according to the complaint.

The smuggling event was initially planned for Thursday, but they held off on the scheme because of poor weather conditions.

However, on Friday, Crescente, his friend and the Mexican and Honduran nationals woke up early in the morning and traveled to an unknown residence in Sebastian where they picked up the boat before heading over to Port Mansfield and launching at around 5:30 a.m., according to the complaint.

“Crescente claims that his friend showed him on a mapping app the route to be taken north towards Baffin Bay,” the complaint stated. “He went on to say that somewhere along the way north is where he was signaled and stopped by law enforcement.”

Crescente was scheduled to make a first appearance in a Corpus Christi federal court Monday morning in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Mitchel Neurock.

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