Photo: Human Smuggling Operation in San Diego Beach
A key figure in a large-scale maritime human smuggling organization and three alleged are facing charges, that began with the discovery of an abandoned vessel on a San Diego County beach and culminated six hours later with the arrest of the boat’s illegal alien passengers in Anaheim, Calif.
The smuggling investigation, leading to the arrests, shifted into high gear about 7 a.m. Friday, after the Carlsbad Police Department located an abandoned panga-style boat near Ponto Beach in Carlsbad, Calif. Local authorities alerted federal agents from the Los Angeles Border Enforcement Security Task Force (LA BEST) and U.S. Border Patrol, who had been tracking the movements of this smuggling organization for several weeks.
According to investigators, a van believed to belong to the organization, was parked in a coastal neighborhood in Rancho Palos Verdes, Thursday night, but agents suspended surveillance when the vehicle left at sunrise without picking up any passengers. Investigators say the Ensenada-based vessel which came ashore in Carlsbad was originally supposed to make landfall farther north. However, the smugglers had to abort the plan after the boat developed engine trouble.
Upon receiving information about the boat landing in Carlsbad, agents with the LA BEST and Border Patrol resumed surveillance on the cargo van, ultimately tracking it to an apartment building in Anaheim, Calif. When investigators entered the residence, they encountered nine illegal aliens from Mexico whose clothes were still wet and caked with sand from the morning’s boat landing. Agents also detained four alleged members of the smuggling ring, including one of the organization’s suspected leaders.
Those charged in the case are:
* Mario Echeverria, 24, a naturalized U.S. citizen residing in Tijuana, Mexico. Echeverria is suspected of being one of the ringleaders of the maritime smuggling organization;
* 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.
The defendants are charged with the criminal complaint of conspiring to bring, transport and harbor illegal aliens. The violation carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
Officials with the Department of Homeland Security say Friday’s events offer further evidence that maritime human smuggling has expanded from the San Diego area into Orange and Los Angeles counties. In recent months, suspected human smuggling boats have come ashore as far north as Malibu.