Accused Smuggler of Cubans Wants Boat Computer Analyzed To Prove Innocence


ST. THOMAS — The attorney representing a French national accused of smuggling 38 Cubans and one St. Lucian onto St. John in April is demanding the government halt the planned release of key piece of evidence — his boat and its navigational computer.

Alain Rene Leichtnam, 71, was arrested April 30 on board the vessel Mazurka, along with a 23-year-old St. Lucia woman. At the time it was seized by agents of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Mazurka was leaving the east end of St. John where authorities allege Leichtnam dropped off the Cubans as part of an illegal immigration operation.

On May 18 Federal Public Defender Gabriel Villegas filed an emergency petition, asking that the government keep the vessel in custody for the duration of the court proceedings.  He also asked that the Cubans who were rounded up on St. John be detained as material witnesses.

All of this is needed to prove his client’s innocence, Atty. Villegas said. Leichtnam claims he was taking his boat to “a different destination outside of the U.S.,” but was waylaid by his Cuban passengers, according to court documents.

The Cubans “became angry” and compelled him to enter U.S. waters as they approached the Virgin Islands, Leichtnam said. In order to prove this claim, Villegas filed an emergency petition asking the government to provide photos and contact information for the detainees.

“The defense has no way to know how to contact these witnesses, who they are, or when the indictment will be filed,” Villegas said in his filing. “Time is of the essence in interviewing these material witnesses as to what they remember and Defendant is in immediate need of the informationin order to prepare a defense.”

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office have already won an order from U.S. Magistrate Ruth Miller to detain St. Lucia national Kurcharma Mishkia St. Luce as a material witness.  Mishkia told investigators she set sail with Leichtnam from her homeport on April 26. The Cuban passengers boarded the Mazurka while Leichtnam was away obtaining water for the vessel, she said.

Villegas defended the request to hold the vessel after hearing authorities planned to release the boat to its owners. Keeping the boat will allow Leithnam to have an expert of his choosing download data from the navigation system which he says will prove St. John was not his intended destination.

The magistrate has scheduled a hearing on the motion for May 27, in the District Court of St. Thomas at 10 a.m.