A Bahamian national accused of running a smuggling operation that was busted last week on Palm Beach made his initial appearance Tuesday morning in federal court.
Joshua Lewis faces one count of alien smuggling after authorities said they detained 12 immigrants on Jan. 17.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the immigrants came ashore around 10:45 a.m. in the 900 block of N. Ocean Boulevard.
Court records showed they swam ashore after their boat capsized.
Nine of those detained were Chinese nationals, including one juvenile, DHS said.
The criminal complaint said Lewis was charged in November 2019 in an alien smuggling case and was deported on Jan. 14 of this year, just three days before the Palm Beach incident.
WPTV NewsChannel 5 has learned the suspected smuggling boat traveled in the middle of the night against 8-foot waves. Court records indicated none of the passengers had life jackets.
Two of the 12 immigrants that came ashore are from Cuba and both spoke with law enforcement officials after being detained, according to court records.
A prosecutor told a federal judge Tuesday morning that the Cuban nationals helped identify Lewis as the captain of the ship. The two Cubans are both being held as material witnesses and will potentially testify in the case.
The criminal complaint said that the nine Chinese migrants who were detained refused to answer questions. One of the Chinese nationals, Guangzin Lin, also faces charges for illegal re-entry. Court records said Lin was deported in August 2019.
If convicted, Lewis could face up to 10 years in prison, a federal judge said on Tuesday.
Lewis is due back in court on Jan. 28 for a pre-trial detention hearing.
READ THE CRIMINAL COMPLAINT HERE: