Federal authorities in L.A. take down alleged immigrant-smuggling ring
Officials say the organization transported about 5,000 illegal migrants throughout the nation and earned up to $18 million annually.
By Anna Gorman
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 29, 2008
Federal authorities said Thursday they had dismantled a smuggling ring that brought hundreds of undocumented immigrants each month into Southern California, using private homes as “drop houses” and a 99-cent store as a staging ground.
Authorities estimate the ringleaders may have grossed $6 million to $18 million annually transporting about 5,000 undocumented immigrants after they illegally crossed the border into Arizona. Immigration officials said it was one of the largest human-smuggling operations uncovered on the West Coast in recent years.
“This is a criminal organization that is driven by greed,” said Jennifer Silliman, deputy special agent in charge for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Los Angeles. “They see an opportunity, with the borders shored up a little bit, for them to make money.”
The agency's three-year investigation began in May 2005, when Los Angeles police discovered more than 140 illegal immigrants in two locked drop houses in South Los Angeles. Authorities arrested two men — both illegal immigrants who said they were paying off their own smuggling debts — who authorities said were guarding the others until family members came up with the payments.
On Wednesday, ICE agents executed several search warrants and arrested three people allegedly involved in the smuggling organization, including one of the ringleaders. Three others were previously arrested and seven more are at large.
The “Francisco” organization was allegedly run by three Guatemalans named Francisco. Immigration agents arrested Francisco Andres Pedro, 35, Wednesday and caught Francisco Andres Francisco, 39, last month in Pennsylvania. Agents are still seeking a third suspected ringleader, Francisco Pedro-Francisco, 29. They all face federal criminal charges of transporting and harboring illegal immigrants.
In the course of the investigation, ICE agents also arrested more than 800 immigrants who had been smuggled, most from Guatemala, Ecuador, Mexico and El Salvador.
Authorities said that in recent cases, they had been able to track down the heads of rings rather than just arresting the illegal immigrants they transport. But the challenge is gathering enough evidence for a successful prosecution.
In searches at the 99-cent store in Los Angeles and at several homes, authorities seized evidence including bank records and other documents. The investigation is ongoing.
The smuggling ring allegedly picked up immigrants who had crossed the border in Arizona, held them in drop houses in Los Angeles and Lancaster and then drove them in vans and SUVs to several states, including New Jersey, Tennessee and Illinois.
They were able to hide their movements by using homes with covered garages and by using the 99-cent store parking lot on South Main Street, authorities said.
Even as illegal immigrants migrate across the country, authorities said, L.A. remains a final destination for many and a hub for smuggling rings.
“With our close proximity to the border, the established community that we have here and the size of this city, this will continue to be a hub for a long time,” Silliman said.
Silliman said this case also showed that the smuggling organizations are now dividing their duties.
– Deportee torn between two countries
– 6 charged in immigrant smuggling scheme
2008 American News Articles
February 29, 2008: Federal Authorities In L.A. Take Down Alleged Immigrant-Smuggling Ring**
February 29, 2008: “He Can't Win.”–How Immigration Reform Patriots Betrayed Duncan Hunter (And Tom Tancredo)**
February 28, 2008: Islamic Center Leader Pleads Guilty To Immigration Fraud**
February 26, 2008: U.S. Naturalization Applications Surge: Study*
February 23, 2008: New Tactics To Control Immigration Are Unveiled**
February 22, 2008: 6 Charged in Immigrant Smuggling Scheme**
February 22, 2008: Groups Protest Guatemalan ID's*
February 22, 2008: Colorado Considers Recruiting Farm Workers From Mexico**
February 22, 2008: Feds To Raise Fines For Hiring Illegals*
February 21, 2008: Iraqis Nabbed In Mexico, Headed To U.S. With Fake I.D.'s***
February 21, 2008: Canal Levels Rise, Pose Greater Risk For Illegal Crossers**
February 21, 2008: Sanctuary Law Tabled Until “Community Has Healed” *
February 21, 2008: Texas Cities Oppose Border Fence**
February 20, 2008: Man Admits Arranging Fraudulent Marriages***
February 20, 2008: Most States Give Green Light To Tamper-Proof ID's**
February 20, 2008: Tending The American Melting Pot*
February 20, 2008: Guard Member Sentenced*
February 20, 2008: Courts Unable To Keep Up With Border Arrests**
February 19, 2008: Obama Says Immigration Should Not Be Used As 'Political Football” **
February 19, 2008: Hatch, Bennett: No Federal Immigration Changes In Sight***
February 19, 2008: Specter Decries Cost To Hold Deportable Alien Criminals**
February 18, 2008: Ad: Immigration Costs Blacks Jobs**
February 18, 2008: Illegal Emigres Defy The Image–Fastest Growing Source? It's India.***
February 17, 2008: America Tightens Entry Rules**
February 17, 2008: More Illegal Immigrants Are Rushing To File Taxes*
February 17, 2008: Housing Slowdown Puts Day Labourers In Limbo*
February 17, 2008: Immigration Reform High On Clinton's To-Do List**
February 16, 2008: Hispanic Birthrate Is Changing State's Look*
February 15, 2008: Crackdown On Illegal Immigrants Spurs Debate*
February 12, 2008: Immigration Projected To Drive America's Population Growth***
January 24, 2008: North Koreans Rally In Hopes Of Asylum**
January 24, 2008: In A New Tactic, Border Patrol Targets Immigrant-Smuggling 800 Miles From Border**
January 24, 2008: Immigration Bill Targets Employers
January 24, 2008: Clinton's Hispanic Edge
January 24, 2008: GOP Candidates Talk Tough On Learning English, But Also Advertise In Spanish
January 23, 2008: Rise Of Chavez Sends Venezualans To Florida**
January 23, 2008: Vietnam Agrees To The Return Of Deportees From The U.S.**
January 23, 2008: Chertoff Expects More Border Violence
January 23, 2008: Mexican Politicians Say Migrants Returning Because Of Arizona Law
January 23, 2008: Surge Cited In Attacks On U.S. Border Agents
January 23, 2008: Bill Would End Tuition Break For Illegal Immigrants
January 23, 2008: Man Indicted In Scheme To Help Finance Smugglers
January 22, 2008: Asylum Program Falls Short For Iraqis Aiding U.S. Forces**
January 21, 2008: U.S. Faces 'Grave Threat' In Drug Fight
January 21, 2008: Illegal Immigrants Being Fired In Face Of Federal Crackdown
January 20, 2008: Mount Rainier Council To Vote On Becoming 'Sanctuary' City
January 20, 2008: Resorts Increasingly Turning To Foreigners For Service Jobs
January 20, 2008: From Green Card To U.S. Passport
January 20, 2008: New U.S. Citizens Could Sway Vote
January 20, 2008: State Asked To Do The Math Of Immigration
January 18, 2008: New Rules For U.S.-Canada Border To Start Next Month
January 3, 2008: Public Forums On Illegal Immigration In The Works In Virginia Beach
January 3, 2008: Brazilians Leave Florida For Home**
January 3, 2008: Quinceanera Ritual Divides Catholics**
January 3, 2008: Lawmakers: Immigration Is One Of The Top Issues This Year
January 3, 2008: Spanish-Language Papers Sending Reporters On Campaign Trail
January 3, 2008: Sanctions Law Debuts Quietly; Long-Term Impact Uncertain
January 3, 2008: U.S. Dollar Decline Impacts Immigrant Remittances
January 3, 2008: Getting Tougher On Illegals; ICE Program Trains Deputies
January 3, 2008: Mexican Farmers Protest NAFTA
January 3, 2008: Border Agents Assaulted At “Unprecedented” Rate**
January 2, 2008: For Republicans, Contest's Hallmark Is Immigration
January 2, 2008: Eager To Vote, But Stuck In Citizenship Process
January 2, 2008: Many Fresh Direct Workers, Facing Immigration Status Test, Quit Jobs
January 1, 2008: Ron Paul Furious Over Fox Debate Snub
January 1, 2008: Hospital Reflects Census Data
January 1, 2008: Activist Fails To Rally Blacks On Illegal Immigration Issue