Defendant Sentenced to 83 Months for Maritime Smuggling Event that Resulted in the Deaths of Two Aliens | USAO-SDCA

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jill Streja and Seth Askins (619)546-8401


SAN DIEGO – Julio Cesar Murillo-Arce was sentenced in federal court today to 83 months in prison for his role as the captain of a panga boat that suffered engine trouble and capsized in February 2020, resulting in the deaths of two of the six smuggled aliens on board. Murillo-Arce pleaded guilty to four counts of alien smuggling in June 2020.   

As reflected in court records, during the late hours of February 2 and early morning hours of February, Murillo-Arce piloted a panga boat with six illegal aliens aboard from Ensenada, Mexico, to United States territorial waters.  At approximately 1:30 a.m., as the boat was approximately 150 yards offshore and beyond the breakers near Imperial Beach, it began experiencing severe engine trouble and eventually became inoperable in the rough seas.

Law enforcement personnel with the Joint Harbor Operations Center were able to observe the boat, and Border Patrol agents responded to the shore. Fearing capture, Murillo-Arce told the other individuals aboard not to identify him as the pilot of the boat and then dove into the water, abandoning them at their time of greatest need. Thereafter, a large wave capsized the boat, throwing all six smuggled aliens into the rough seas.  Four eventually were able to make it to shore, but two – Ramon Ponce-Rodriguez and Modesto Rodriguez-Ballesteros – were unable to swim and drowned.   

When this incident occurred, Murillo-Arce previously had been convicted of a maritime alien smuggling offense in 2019 in the Central District of California and was on supervised release.

U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn L. Huff sentenced Murillo-Arce to 78 months in federal prison for his criminal conduct in this case.  When handing down the sentence, Judge Huff observed that this was a “tragic, tragic, tragic circumstance” and “one of the most egregious that the court has seen in many years of experience.”  She noted that Murillo-Arce was not deterred by his prior conviction and stated, “These deaths should not have happened.”  Judge Huff also imposed a 10-month sentence for Murillo-Arce’s violation of the terms of his supervised release and ran five months consecutive, for a total sentence of 83 months. 

“This is yet another tragedy that never should have happened,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “This defendant and others like him care only about their bank accounts and their own safety. Because of his callous disregard for the passengers he attempted to smuggle, two lives were lost.” U.S. Attorney Brewer commended Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jill Streja and Seth Askins, as well as the U.S. Border Patrol and the Joint Harbor Operations Command for their work on this case.

“As made evident by these events, organizations that use the Pacific Ocean to smuggle people have little regard for human life,” stated U.S. Border Patrol, San Diego Sector’s Acting Chief Patrol Agent Patricia McGurk-Daniel. “Border Patrol agents work relentlessly to pursue these smugglers and prevent these tragedies from occurring. The San Diego Sector is grateful for the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s tireless efforts in bringing them to justice.”

DEFENDANT                                               Criminal Case No. 3:20-CR-761-H

Julio Cesar Murillo-Arce                                Age: 42                       Residence: Mexico


8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(i) and (B)(iv) – Attempted Bringing in Illegal Aliens Resulting in Death (2 counts)

Maximum Penalties:  Death or Imprisonment for any term of years or for Life; $250,000 fine.

8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(2)(B)(ii) – Attempting Bringing in Illegal Aliens for Financial Gain (2 counts)

Maximum Penalties: Mandatory Minimum three years; Maximum ten years; $250,000 fine


United States Border Patrol

Joint Harbor Operations Command

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