Arrests Made in Suspected Human Smuggling Ring

By Lindsay Hood
|  Tuesday, May 3, 2011  |  Updated 12:52 PM PDT
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Smugglers Reach Dangerous New Heights

Dept. of Homeland Security

The discovery of this abandoned panga boat in Carlsbad led to the arrest of 13 people.

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Smugglers Reach Dangerous New Heights

With more agents and more fencing along the U.S. Mexico border, smugglers are being forced to get creative.
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A key figure in a large-scale maritime human smuggling operation has been captured, after authorities followed clues from his abandoned panga boat found on a Carlsbad Beach last week.

Officers from the Carlsbad Police spotted the panga-style boat near Ponto Beach on Friday, April 29, and called federal law authorities, whose investigators had been tracking the group for several weeks, according to officials.

A van belonging to the smuggling group was under surveillance Friday morning in the Los Angeles coastal suburb of Rancho Palos Verdes authorities said, but the van never picked up any passengers. Investigators said the boat the men were waiting for apparently had engine trouble and beached in Carlsbad.

The van was followed by federal agents from the Los Angeles Border Enforcement Security Task Force (LA BEST) and U.S. Border Patrol until it led them to an apartment in Anaheim, where they were arrested nine undocumented immigrants whose clothes were still wet and caked with sand from the morning's landing, agents said.

During the bust agents arrested suspected ringleader Mario Echeverria, 24, a naturalized U.S. citizen residing in Tijuana, Mexico; Javier Gomez-Dominguez, 30, of Mexico, the alleged caretaker of the Anaheim drop house; Jose Sevilla, 26, of Mexico, the suspected captain of the smuggling boat; and Fernando Medina-Gonzalez, 43, of Mexico, the alleged smuggling boat navigator and fuel man.

All four appeared in federal court on Monday with conspiring to bring, transport and harbor illegal aliens. The maximum sentence is 10 years in prison.

"The arrests made in Anaheim are the outcome of exceptional collaboration within the federal law enforcement community," said U.S. Border Patrol San Diego Sector Acting Chief Patrol Agent Rodney S. Scott. "Our efforts to fuse intelligence and operational planning capabilities have and will continue to produce successful results in deterring illegal maritime border crossings.  We will continue to disrupt, dismantle and defeat the transnational criminal organizations operating within the San Diego Sector area of influence whose criminal activities endanger both our citizens as well as those who are smuggled through treacherous ocean waters."

According to the Department of Homeland Security, the arrests made in Anaheim offers further evidence that human smuggling has expanded from San Diego County and into Orange and Los Angeles Counties.

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