Five Los Angeles-area residents have been indicted for operating a human smuggling scheme that relied largely on African-Americans to transport loads of illegal aliens from the U.S.-Mexico border to the Los Angeles area.
Four of the defendants, including the suspected ringleader of the scheme, Maria “Reyna” Lopez-Diaz, 60, of Compton, were taken into custody by border patrol and immigration agents.
Lopez-Diaz allegedly coordinated with international smugglers to arrange for the pick-up of illegal aliens near the border. Lopez-Diaz also allegedly purchased the smuggling vehicles and recruited the drivers, providing them with cars, cell phones and travel expenses. The investigation revealed Lopez-Diaz specifically sought out financially disadvantaged U.S. citizens from south Los Angeles who did not speak Spanish, offering them $300 to $800 for every illegal alien they successfully transported.
According to investigators, the ring charged aliens anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 to be smuggled from the border to Los Angeles. The aliens were locked inside vehicle trunks or concealed in specially built compartments under the hood or elsewhere. During a one-year period from January 2010 through January 2011, it is estimated the organization was smuggling several dozen aliens a month into the Los Angeles area.
According to investigators, the ring’s decision to primarily use non-Spanish speaking African-American drivers was a calculated attempt to try to reduce the risk of detection and prosecution. First, the defendants believed the drivers were less likely to arouse suspicion. In the event they were stopped by the Border Patrol, the drivers’ inability to speak Spanish and communicate with the aliens they were transporting meant the drivers had limited information about the broader smuggling scheme.