San Diego

Migrant Smuggling Ring Accused of Recruiting Local High School Students

The migrant smuggling ring is accused of using juveniles and young adults from local high schools as load drivers, recruited using online sites like Craigslist.

Three men were charged in connection with an alleged migrant smuggling ring that recruited San Diego high school students as drivers, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

U.S. citizens Cristian Hirales-Morales, 31, Marcos Julian Romero, 21, and Sergio Anthony Santivanez, 23 were indicted by a federal grand jury Tuesday.

The men were part of a ring that smuggled undocumented migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border to the Los Angeles area, according to the indictment.

They are also accused of using websites like Craigslist to recruit juveniles and young adults from San Diego-area high schools as load drivers.

“Often time it's a friend who says, ‘Do you want to make some money?’ And they’re talking about $500 to $1,000, just drive down to the border area, pick up a couple people and take them north,” said Timothy Coughlin, assistant to the U.S. Attorney.

The smuggling group also got ahold of the high school students' personal information such as photos of their driver’s licenses and vehicle information.

Criminal groups like these often charge up to $8,000 per migrant, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. 

“They don’t understand what could be easier is a lifetime of having a felony conviction or prison time, potentially,” Coughlin explained.

From March to September the U.S. Attorney's Office has documented 25 to 30 events of young people involved in smuggling events. 

Hirales, Romero, and Santivanez face a combination of charges, including conspiracy to bring in undocumented immigrants for financial gain, conspiracy to transport undocumented immigrants for financial gain, and bringing undocumented immigrants for financial gain. 

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