LOS ANGELES - A federal grand jury today indicted 12 defendants for their roles in an alien smuggling ring that brought illegal aliens to the Los Angeles area and, for hefty fees, arranged to move those people around the country. Paperwork recently collected in the investigation indicates that the organization transported at least 5,400 illegal aliens since mid-2004.
The indictment follows the arrest of six of the defendants nearly two weeks ago by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Today's indictment charges all 12 defendants with conspiracy to harbor, conceal, and transport illegal aliens for commercial advantage and private financial gain.
ICE's investigation into the operation - dubbed the "three Franciscos" smuggling ring because the three lead defendants are named Francisco - began in May 2005 when the Los Angeles Police Department discovered two smuggling "drop houses" in a 24-hour period in South Los Angeles. More than 140 illegal aliens were packed into those houses.
While a group of illegal aliens was being transported from Arizona into the Los Angeles area last year, a driver for the organization crashed the minivan he was driving into a highway median near Barstow, according to the indictment. The driver and 10 illegal aliens were ejected from the vehicle and suffered serious injuries, including crushed internal organs and cerebral hemorrhaging.
According to court documents previously filed in the case, ICE agents uncovered an organization run by Guatemalan nationals who provided housing and transportation to illegal aliens who had previously been smuggled into the United States from Mexico, Central American and South America. The smuggled aliens were brought to drop houses in Los Angeles and Lancaster, where they were housed until they or family members paid up to $5,600 each for the domestic portion of their journey.
"Organizations that operate like this one see people as nothing more than currency," said Jennifer Silliman, acting special agent in charge of the ICE office of investigations in Los Angeles. "ICE remains committed to shutting down vulnerabilities in our immigration system by attacking and dismantling the organized networks that illegally transport illegal aliens for profit."
Those indicted today are:
- Francisco Andres-Francisco, 39, a Guatemalan national, who is one of the leaders of the organization and is in custody in Pennsylvania after being found driving a van allegedly loaded with illegal aliens;
- Francisco Andres-Pedro, 35, a Guatemalan national, who is another suspected ringleader and who allegedly arranged the long-range transportation of smuggled aliens;
- Francisco Pedro-Francisco, 29, a Guatemalan national, the third suspected leader of the organization, who leased the drop house where the 88 illegal aliens were found and who allegedly owned and drove several of the vehicles used to transport illegal aliens;
- Elvira Bartolo Sebastian, 37, a Guatemalan national and wife of Andres-Francisco, the fourth alleged leader of the organization;
- Juana Domingo Juan, 39, who is linked to multiple smuggling vehicles registered at a Lancaster address;
- Angel Gonzalez-Pelico, 29, a Guatemalan national who is fugitive and who allegedly also signed the lease for the drop house;
- Gilberto Francisco-Lorenzo, 26, a Guatemalan national who is a fugitive and who is accused of being a driver for the organization;
- Juan Jimenez-Pascual, 23, who claims to be a Mexican national, is accused of being a driver for the organization and allegedly was the driver of the van that crashed in Arizona, injuring 10 illegal aliens (he is currently in custody in Utah on federal charges of being a deported alien who illegally re-entered the United States);
- Isaias Vasquez-Mendoza, 23, a Guatemalan nation who is a fugitive and is accused of being a driver for the organization;
- Henry Rodriguez-Sanchez, 27, a Guatemalan nation who is currently in custody in Pennsylvania and is accused of being a driver for the organization;
- Anibal Francisco, 25, a Guatemalan national who is currently a fugitive and allegedly drove aliens from Phoenix to Los Angeles; and
- Luis Lopez-Moncho, age unknown, who claims to be a Mexican national, is a fugitive and is charged with being a driver for the organization.
If convicted, each of the defendants faces a maximum statutory sentence of 10 years in federal prison.
The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.