Feds Charge 55 Suspects in Major Human Smuggling Network
by Jim Kouri, CPP
Federal and local law enforcement officers fanned out across southern Arizona and several other states searching for more than 50 people allegedly linked to a far-reaching human smuggling organization that brought large numbers of illegal aliens into the United States across remote eastern sections of Arizona's international border. Arrests are also being sought in New Mexico, California, Minnesota, and Ohio.
The enforcement action caps a two-year probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Cochise County Sheriff's Office, into a family-run human smuggling ring based in the tiny Arizona town of Bowie. Other agencies that aided with the investigation include the Willcox Police Department, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Graham County Sheriff's Office, and the Bureau of Land Management.
The arrests come less than three weeks after a grand jury in Tucson handed down a sealed indictment naming 55 suspects for their involvement in the scheme. The alleged violations include alien smuggling and money laundering.
Among those named in the indictment are the smuggling organization's suspected ringleader, Pablo Esteban Juarez, 31, a/k/a Stevie, and his wife Lori Juarez, 30. The other defendants are alleged to have played a variety of roles in the scheme, ranging from “enforcers” -- individuals paid to protect the leadership, guard proceeds, and prevent illegal aliens from leaving “drop houses” without approval; guides -- individuals hired to walk illegal aliens across the Mexico border into the United States; drivers -- individuals paid to transport illegal aliens to Bowie and then on to Phoenix; and “money runners” - individuals paid to pick up smuggling fees.
At a press conference in Tucson, representatives from the United States Attorney's Office, the FBI, ICE, the Border Patrol, and the Cochise County Sheriff's Office detailed how the smuggling organization, which catered primarily to Mexicans and Central Americans, operated.
According to federal authorities the ring had a monthly contract with people in Aqua Prieta, Mexico who solicited individuals wanting to be smuggled into the United States. Aliens would be briefly housed in Aqua Prieta prior to crossing the border.
Guides would cross the aliens through the desert to a predetermined location along Highway 80. Drivers would then pick them up on Highway 80, north of Douglas, and take them to Bowie.
Each alien would be charged between $500 to $800 for the Aqua Prieta to Bowie leg. Once in Bowie, the smuggled aliens had to pay additional money to travel from Bowie to their final destination. The aliens would be held in Bowie until the organization received the balance of the smuggling fees from family members or alien smuggling “brokers.” Then the defendants would coordinate the aliens' transportation to Phoenix, Arizona, and other destinations throughout the United States.
“This was not just any family business. The Juarez family led a network of individuals, stretching across southern Arizona and well into Mexico,” said Paul K. Charlton, the United States Attorney for the District of Arizona.
“This network organized, housed, fed, guided and transported large numbers of illegal aliens across the border. Due to their criminal enterprise, Bowie became a major staging area for the movement of illegal aliens to the Phoenix hub, and onward to destinations throughout the United States. Thanks to outstanding coordination among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, we have effectively dismantled and brought to justice a major smuggling organization.”
For aliens destined for cities outside Arizona, the smuggling fees could run as high as $2,000 each. According to the indictment, the criminal organization received most of the funds in the form of wire transfers. In an effort to avoid arousing suspicion, the defendants allegedly recruited “money runners” to pick up the wired funds at the Western Union offices in the area.
“The result of this investigation was the dismantlement of an international organized criminal enterprise. Alien smuggling enterprises, such as this one, present our country with many issues to include clandestine terrorist travel and human trafficking,” said John El Lewis, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Phoenix.
“First, these organizations care only about the money they are being paid, they do not concern themselves with who they are smuggling into our country, nor the motives of those individuals which could leave us vulnerable to another 9/11 attack. Secondly, many individuals cross our borders illegally after being promised a better life, only to find themselves exploited by those paying their smuggling fees. The security of our borders and the fight against criminal atrocities such as human trafficking cannot be undertaken by one agency. Our successes in these matters are dependent upon personal relationships and our ability to work together.”
As with other similar criminal enterprises, drugs and violence played a role. Many of the individuals employed by the ring were paid with narcotics. Some of the defendants possessed firearms, which they allegedly used to protect themselves and their proceeds, as well as to threaten the smuggled aliens.
“This investigation has led to the break up of one of the most ruthless and longstanding human smuggling organizations operating in eastern Arizona and it wouldn't have happened without the extraordinary efforts of all of the agencies involved,” said Alonzo Peña, special agent in charge for the ICE office of investigations in Arizona.
“The defendants mistakenly believed their remote location would keep them off of our radar screen, but as they found out, in Arizona, human smugglers can't escape being brought to justice.”
A conviction for alien smuggling conspiracy carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine or both. A conviction for money laundering carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine or both.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.