Caribbean Corridor Strike Force Arrests 3 Individuals Charged with Conspiracy to Communicate a False Distress Signal | USAO-PR

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – On July 14, 2022, a federal grand jury sitting in the District of Puerto Rico returned an indictment charging Harold Carrion Butter, Justinita Butter, and Miriam Delgado-Serrano with Conspiracy to Communicate a False Distress Signal, in violation of 14 USC § 521(c) and 18 USC § 371; Communicating a False Distress Signal, in violation of 14 USC § 521(c), and 18 USC § 2; Conspiracy to Destroy, Alter, or Falsify Records in Federal investigations, in violation of 18 USC §§ 1519 and 371; and Destruction, Alteration, or Falsification of Records in Federal investigations, in violation of 18 USC §§ 2 and 1519. The announcement was made by United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico W. Stephen Muldrow, and Captain Jose E. Diaz, Commander of the US Coast Guard, Sector San Juan.

Additionally, Justinita Butter and Miriam Delgado-Serrano were charged with multiple counts of making false statements to United States Coast Guard personnel and United States Coast Guard Investigative Service agents, in violation of 18 USC § 1001(a)(2).

Pursuant to court filings, on June 28, 2022, Harold Carrion Butter, while trying to evade local authorities regarding a domestic violence case, purposefully hid himself while at Poza Del Obispo in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, in an attempt to make it seem like he was swept out to sea. Carrion Butter called his mother, Justinita Butter who, after several phone conversations with her son, called local 9-1-1. She falsely reported that her son had not been answering his phone and was missing from the beach at Poza Del Obispo in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Her 9-1-1 call was transferred to United States Coast Guard Sector San Juan, which immediately began to coordinate a search and rescue operation for Carrion Buter. Throughout that night and following two days, through multiple phone calls with Coast Guard Officers, Justinita Butter and Miriam Delgado-Serrano, made multiple false claims that Carrion Butter did not have a phone, must have been swept out to sea, and that there was no other place he could be. All these claims were made while they were both in continuous and surreptitious communication with Carrion Butter through multiple phone calls and text messages.

On July 1, 2022, Carrion Butter was discovered by local Puerto Rico police, in a location near his family home. The United States Coast Guard having ended its search and rescue operation, after having diverted multiple ships, boats, and aircraft from other potential search and rescue missions and criminal-interdictions, and after expended over $1,000,000 in assets and resources in the search.

“The Department of Justice will vigorously prosecute those who make false reports to law enforcement. The defendants’ actions in this case not only placed law enforcement officers and others participating in rescue efforts in danger, but diverted essential resources from other law enforcement and potential rescue efforts,” said United States Attorney Muldrow.

“I want it to be very clear to the people and the maritime community of Puerto Rico, both commercial and recreational, that this unfortunate situation will not deter our response in future cases and maritime emergencies,” said Capt. Jose E. Díaz, Coast Guard Sector San Juan commander. “Of all our missions, search and rescue, and the safety of life at sea are my top priorities. It is important for everyone to know that the Coast Guard is always ready to respond to rescue people in distress at sea and that no one should ever hesitate to call the Coast Guard for help during a maritime distress.”

“For the Coast Guard, a false distress call diverts assets and personnel away from our critical missions, it is also a crime, and the Coast Guard Investigative Service will treat it accordingly,” said Zinnia James, Coast Guard Investigative Service Special Agent in Charge Southeast Region.

The prosecutors in charge of the case are, Assistant US Attorney Max Pérez-Bouret, Chief of the Transnational Organized Crime Section; and Deputy Chief of the Transnational Organized Crime Section, Assistant US Attorney Vanessa Bonhomme. If convicted, the defendants face a mandatory sentence of not more than 5 years for violation of 18 USC § 1001(a)(2), less than 10 years in prison for violations of 14 USC § 521, and up to 20 years for obstruction of justice.

Indictments contain only charges and are not evidence of guilt. Defendants are presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Caribbean Corridor Strikeforce is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) Strike Force Initiative, which provides for the establishment of permanent multi-agency task force teams that work side-by-side in the same location. This co-located model enables agents from different agencies to collaborate on intelligence-driven, multi-jurisdictional operations to disrupt and dismantle the most significant drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations.

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