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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
09/12/2008

LAX elevator mechanic indicted for role in human smuggling scheme

LOS ANGELES - An elevator mechanic employed by Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) was formally indicted today for smuggling foreign nationals into the United States by bypassing established security at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

Roberto Amaya Canchola, 53, a United States citizen and Los Angeles resident, is charged in a six-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury here this afternoon with bringing illegal aliens into the United States for financial gain and with bringing illegal aliens into the country without presenting them to an immigration officer. If convicted on all six counts, Canchola faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for each count. Canchola is scheduled to be arraigned on the indictment September 22.

The defendant, who is currently free on $100,000 bond, is on leave from LAWA pending an administrative review of his employment status. His badge was confiscated the day of his arrest and has been deactivated by the Airport Police. Canchola is a 23-year City of Los Angeles employee, of which 19 years have been at LAWA.

Canchola was arrested at LAX on August 23, after agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) observed him using special access security keys to smuggle four aliens, including two with criminal convictions, off an arriving Mexicana Airlines flight and through the airport. Canchola escorted the aliens through a series of restricted access elevators and corridors, enabling them to avoid inspection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. After guiding the aliens through the airport, he led them to an awaiting taxi outside.

"Those who put our nation's security at risk to pocket a profit can expect to pay a heavy price," said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge for the ICE office of investigations in Los Angeles. "This investigation is very much ongoing and we are determined to identify and bring to justice any others who were complicit in this scheme."

The investigation began in late July, after CBP officers discovered a discrepancy in the number of passengers from a Mexicana flight clearing the airport's federal inspection area. The four passengers presented false alien registration numbers or Mexican passports without valid visas when boarding the flight in Mexico. A review of LAX surveillance video identified Canchola intercepting the four passengers arriving on the flight and guiding them through the federal inspection area.

"This case, initiated by CBP, investigated by ICE and assisted by Los Angeles World Airports, reinforces the necessity for constant vigilance in overseeing our security systems," said CBP Los Angeles Field Operations Director Kevin W. Weeks. "We will continue to maintain a strong enforcement posture against human smuggling and will continue to work with ICE and LAWA to identify and prosecute violators to the full extent of the law. We have a commitment to keep America safe."