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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

2 former Border Patrol agents face human smuggling charges

ICE, Mexican authorities team up to arrest and extradite defendants

SAN DIEGO - Two former Border Patrol agents and two co-conspirators were arraigned Friday in U.S. District Court on an 18-count indictment accusing them of alien smuggling, money laundering, witness tampering and bribery. All four defendants were extradited from Mexico where U.S. and Mexican authorities located them late last year.

Raul Villarreal, 39, and his brother, Fidel Villarreal, 41, both former Border Patrol agents in San Diego, were taken into custody in Tijuana in October 2008, along with Armando Garcia, 40, and Claudia Gonzales, 32. Following their arrest, the four were transferred to Mexico City to await extradition proceedings. The arrests are the result of a two-year investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Office of Inspector General (OIG).

According to the April 2008 federal grand jury indictment in San Diego, the defendants allegedly operated an alien smuggling organization in 2005 and 2006. As part of the smuggling operation, Garcia led the illegal aliens on foot across the border, and both of the Villarreal brothers allegedly picked them up at the border in their official Border Patrol vehicles and released them into the United States.

"This arrest is a reminder for criminals to think twice before fleeing the United States to evade prosecution and punishment for crimes they have committed here," said Miguel Unzueta, special agent in charge for the ICE Office of Investigations in San Diego. "ICE works closely with law enforcement agencies in Mexico and around the world to ensure our borders will not be barriers to bringing serious criminals to justice."

The defendants' next court appearance is a detention hearing scheduled for March 17 at 9:30 a.m. before Magistrate Judge Leo S. Papas.