Sebring woman charged for role in human smuggling conspiracy that killed 16, officials say

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, a 25-year-old Sebring woman was detained pending trial on Saturday.

Yaqulelin Dominguez-Nieves was detained on an indictment charging ten counts for her role in an alien smuggling venture that resulted in the death of approximately 16 people, four of whom were recovered at sea and drowned.

"Human smuggling ventures put people’s lives at risk for the sake of profit," said U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida. "Human smugglers prey on the migrants’ hopes for a better life. Tragically, the smugglers’ exploits pose a grave danger to migrants. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to work with our partners to prosecute those who carry out illicit human smuggling operations to protect vulnerable migrants and save lives."

"The Coast Guard Investigative Service is committed to safeguarding those who are vulnerable and at risk of exploitation. The indictment and arrest of Yaqulelin Dominguez-Nieves underscore our unwavering dedication to protecting individuals from the dangers of illegal smuggling operations. These criminal activities not only violate federal law but also endanger human lives. We remain steadfast in our mission to bring those who perpetrate such heinous acts to justice and ensure the safety and security of our maritime borders." said Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. Margelot of the Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) Southeast Field Office.

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Officials say allegations in the indictment and information presented during the detention hearing revealed that Dominguez-Nieves facilitated a smuggling venture in 2022 that resulted in death and was for commercial gain. About 16 migrants, three of whom are charged in the indictment and many of whom were children, died when the boat they were being smuggled in sank roughly thirty miles off the coast of Cuba while heading to the Southern District of Florida on Nov. 16, 2022.

According to a survivor, the boat was overloaded and did not contain a single life vest.

Authorities say Dominguez-Nieves was arrested by CGIS Special Agents with help from the Highlands County Sheriff's Office Crime Suppression Unit.

Officials say CGIS Southeast Field Office investigated the case, with help from U.S. Coast Guard Sector Key West, the U.S. Border Patrol, the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office, and the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office.

Dominguez-Nieves faces a maximum penalty of life in prison or death if she is convicted of encouraging and inducing or attempting to bring aliens into the United States resulting in death. 

Officials say a federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. Dominguez-Nieves is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Keller is prosecuting this case, according to authorities.

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