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Illegal Charter Operators Taking Advantage of COVID Shutdowns: Miami Police

What you might dismiss as minor paperwork missing can lead to something far more serious.

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Police in Miami say they’re nabbing illegal charter operators out to take advantage of the COVID-19 rules closing nightclubs, and the marine patrol officers say the good times at sea are dangerous.  

The City of Miami Police Department has been launching its boats from a marina near Jungle Island and working with the Coast Guard to stop these boat and jet ski operations.

Images taken recently by the U.S. Coast Guard show the boats it says were operating without the proper inspections or mandated drug and alcohol programs.

The parties on the water looked wild on social media when NBC 6 first started looking into what was happening — partygoers thinking all the fun was out of reach of law enforcement.

“We’ve put away some bad people," said Lt. Alex Valdes with the Miami Police Marine Patrol Division.

Valdes said in recent weeks his team has been busy conducting operations.  

“We recently had one that resulted in 14 arrests of just illegal charters itself,” Valdez said.

Police say Angel Patino was arrested for not having the proper business license at one boating operation at a marina. Additionally, Ernesto Ferro had just dropped five jet ski customers off and had six others waiting when he was also arrested for not having the right business documents. Patino has entered a not guilty plea, and any of those cited or arrested are presumed innocent. 

Valdes says what you might dismiss as minor paperwork missing can lead to something far more serious.

“When you are dealing with illegal charters or a captain that’s operating under the influence, unfortunately, we have had fatal accidents," Valdes said. "We’ve had a variety of crimes that occur on these vessels.”

Police say sometimes the boats have too many people on board.

“Ever since COVID started, everyone has kind of geared towards partying on the water. They said all the establishments are closed — 'There’s restrictions, let’s go to the water' -- that’s a different alternative to partying in Miami,” Valdes said.

Miami-Dade County is lifting the curfew soon, which will give club operators a chance to get their business back. But running illegal charter operations is lucrative, so police expect this problem to continue.

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