Editor's note: The original version of this story misidentified attorney Richard Lakeman. The mistake has been corrected.:
FORT MYERS-- A Miami man facing federal charges in an alleged boat theft ring that stretched between Marco Island and Pinellas County failed to appear at his trial Tuesday morning, leading a judge to issue a warrant for his arrest.
Javier Guevara Fernandez is one of 12 men facing federal conspiracy and smuggling charges in the alleged ring and the only not to strike a plea deal with prosecutors. Free on bond and expected to be present for the 8:45 a.m. trial, Fernandez had yet to show by 9:45.
"He is the most unlikely of defendants I've represented not to be here," his attorney, Richard Lakeman, told District Judge Charlene Honeywell.
Fernandez and his wife were present in court at a pre-trial hearing last week, Lakeman noted, and the attorney said he had no reason to believe his client would skip the appearance. He wondered aloud if Fernandez had been involved in an accident.
Lakeman and his investigator tried unsuccessfully to reach Fernandez by cell phone and at the Naples home on Tuesday morning. A reverse phone search on a number associated with the home also failed to reach someone.
Fernandez is charged with aiding the attempted transportation of a stolen vehicle outside of the country, punishable by a maximum 10 years in prison, and conspiracy to transport a stolen vehicle outside of the country, punishable by a maximum 5-year sentence.
Federal investigators say he conspired to steal a 44-foot 2007 Sea Ray from Punta Gorda, one of 11 boats alleged to have been stolen by the ring between 2007 and 2010, according to the indictment. Three of the boats involved were stolen from Collier County.
The defendants intended to smuggle the boats into Mexico, the indictment states.
Fernandez claims he became an unwitting accomplice when a stranger paid him $200 to transport twenty cans of diesel fuel from Miami to a truck in Naples in 2010. Fernandez was performing odd jobs at the time, according to pleadings in the case, and he never knew any of the other defendants nor conspired to steal the boat.
He was arrested Aug. 23 in Punta Gorda for loitering, released and arrested again on the federal charges.
Lakeman has also argued that the government is attempting to tie Fernandez, a Cuban who came to the country in 2007, with fellow defendants based on their Cuban nationality.
Prosecutors say they have a cooperating source who will testify that Fernandez knew what he was doing when he transported the fuel.
Law enforcement officials have long been aware a boat theft ring was active in Southwest Florida, and they have encouraged residents to report suspicious vehicles or people near boat docks. They say the thieves take the boats to Mexico, where they are often employed in human-smuggling operations.
Tuesday, Honeywell released a pool of potential jurors held for the trial. She said that if Fernandez turns up on Tuesday, a slim chance remains that the trial could start on Wednesday.