East Naples charter boat captain pleads guilty to human smuggling
The Department of Homeland Security reports smuggling prices have jumped more than 100 percent since November. Video provided by Newsy
An East Naples charter captain who was caught in March with 10 undocumented immigrants below the deck of his boat has pleaded guilty to federal human smuggling charges.
Richard Karl Mork, 64, of the 100 block of Palm Boulevard, pleaded guilty in late June to four charges of encouraging and aiding aliens to enter the United States.
His sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 21 in Key West U.S. District Court. Mork faces up to 20 years behind bars — five years for each felony count.
"He acknowledged responsibility, took the plea and now we proceed to sentencing" said Mork's lawyer, Doug Molloy. "All pertinent facts are in front of the judge, and the judge makes that (sentencing) determination."
Mork was arrested March 12. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents said that while on patrol they found his 33-foot center-console boat, “Scout,” disabled about 3 p.m. in Tavernier Creek in the Upper Keys. The federal agents said they then saw two personal watercraft approach the boat, each with two cans of gasoline.
When agents boarded Mork’s boat, they found 10 passengers — five each from Jamaica and Haiti — below deck, court documents state.
One of the passengers, O’Neil Anthony Harris of Jamaica, had been deported from the U.S. in September after he was convicted of possession and intent to sell marijuana in Illinois, court records say.
Mork told investigators he left Bimini, Bahamas, with the intention of bringing the 10 immigrants to the U.S. He said he knew they were undocumented, reports said.
Mork said he ran out of fuel and asked the people on the personal watercraft for help.
Mork most recently ran Blueocean Expeditions Inc., according to the Florida Department of State. The company’s website no longer is active, but a Facebook page describes it as an eco-tour agency and scuba diving center that was based in Fort Lauderdale.
He previously registered a boating company and a tree service and excavation company, according to state records. He also is listed as an officer with the Gallery Wine Café, LLC, a business that was registered with the state in March and that shares Mork’s Palm Boulevard address in East Naples.