A migrant boat ended up on a public beach. Then a Florida Keys condo leader was arrested
A part-time Florida Keys resident faces an unusual “felony littering” charge after police say he pushed an abandoned Cuban migrant boat off the property of the oceanfront condominium where he has a home, and it ended up on a public beach.
The incident happened in November in the small Middle Keys town of Key Colony Beach, but police officers arrested George Freitag, a 56-year-old attorney from New York, on a warrant last Wednesday following an investigation.
Freitag, who could not be reached for comment, was released on a $1,000 bond later that day, according to county online jail records. Information about his legal counsel was not immediately available.
Dumping litter over 500 pounds is considered a third-degree felony and could lead to up to five years in prison if a suspect is judged guilty.
Freitag sits on the board of directors of the Continental Inn’s condominium association, according to the Florida Division of Corporations.
According to the Key Colony Beach arrest affidavit, an officer noticed on Nov. 28 that a Cuban migrant boat that had been located on the Continental Inn’s beach at West Ocean Drive days earlier was now on a beach at the town’s Sunset Park. The properties are next to each other, but the Atlantic beaches are farther apart and separated by a jetty on a point on the south side of the island.
The police department also received an email that week that the boat had been “deliberately put” on Sunset Park “by unknown parties.”
Police Chief Kris DiGiovanni ordered his small staff to investigate the boat, according to the report.
Officers spoke with two witnesses who were Continental Inn guests. They said they saw Freitag and two other people push the boat off the beach, the report states. The other two people were not named in the report.
“The witnesses stated that they watched the vessel being pushed out to sea until it was free to float on its own,” Officer John Buckwalter wrote in the Jan. 25 report. “The vessel was observed floating out to sea west bound and around [a] jetty.”
Key Colony Beach, a neighbor of the larger city of Marathon, has become a collection point for many of the migrant boats that have been arriving up and down the island chain over the course of a recent exodus from Cuba.
Maritime migration surge reached a critical point over the holidays when nearly 500 people from Cuba landed on the remote beach of Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas National Park. More than a thousand more people arrived in between Christmas and New Year’s Day. But increased arrivals have been an issue in the Keys for more than a year.
All the arrivals raised questions on what to do with all of the migrant boats dotting beaches, mangroves and private properties throughout the archipelago.
Since Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued his executive order earlier this month directing state assets, including the National Guard to the Keys to help patrol for incoming migrants, the Florida Department of Emergency said the state would pay to remove migrant boats from people’s property.
But before the executive order, some property owners paid private salvage companies to remove the increasing number of migrant vessels.