LOS ANGELES - Six suspects are in custody facing federal criminal charges after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents executed a series of search and arrest warrants yesterday targeting a large-scale criminal organization suspected of smuggling several hundred illegal aliens a month into the Los Angeles area.
Yesterday's enforcement actions are the latest developments in a nearly three-year investigation by ICE that began in May 2005 when the Los Angeles Police Department discovered two smuggling "drop houses" in a 24-hour period in South Los Angeles occupied by more than 140 illegal aliens.
According to the 160-page case affidavit, the ensuing ICE investigation uncovered a highly profitable organization run by Guatemalan nationals that provided housing and transportation to illegal aliens who had previously been smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border to Phoenix. After the ring brought the aliens from Arizona to Southern California, they were held in "drop houses" in Los Angeles and Lancaster, Calif., before being loaded into vehicles and driven to cities nationwide. The ring's clients, primarily foreign nationals from Central America, paid the organization from $1,200 to $3,700 each for the domestic portion of their journey.
"This probe has dealt a serious blow to one of the largest human smuggling operations uncovered on the West Coast in recent years," said Jennifer Silliman, deputy special agent in charge for the ICE office of investigations in Los Angeles. "Based on our investigation, we suspect this ring was transporting more than 100 illegal aliens a week into this area. The human smuggling trade is a ruthless, greed-driven enterprise that puts communities at risk and generates billions of dollars in illicit proceeds. That is why attacking and dismantling these organizations is one of ICE's top enforcement priorities."
During yesterday's operation, ICE agents arrested one of the three alleged ringleaders of the Francisco smuggling organization, so-called because the three primary suspects are all named Francisco. Francisco Andres Pedro, 35, of Guatemala, is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court here this morning.
A second key suspect, Francisco Andres Francisco, 39, was already in custody after being arrested last month in Pennsylvania for transporting illegal aliens. The third suspected ringleader, Francisco Pedro-Francisco, 29, remains at large.
Currently, the defendants in the case are accused of transporting and harboring illegal aliens. So far, 13 persons face charges in connection with the scheme. They include the three individuals arrested yesterday, three defendants who were already in custody, and seven suspects who are still being sought.
In addition to the arrests, ICE agents executed search warrants yesterday at several residences in Los Angeles and Lancaster, Calif., which were allegedly used by the organization to support the smuggling operation. ICE agents also collected evidence at the "San Francisco 99 Cent Store" on South Main Street in Los Angeles. According to court documents, the business, which is owned by Francisco Andres Francisco and his wife, served as a transportation staging area for illegal aliens being taken in vans and SUVs to cities across the country. ICE agents seized a variety of evidence at the sites, including bank records, smuggling client registers commonly known as "pollo" books, and other financial documents.
Those in custody include:
- Francisco Andres Francisco, 39, Guatemalan; suspected ringleader of the organization; currently in custody in Pa., for transporting illegal aliens;
- Elvira Bartolo Sebastian, 37, Guatemalan, wife of Francisco Andres Francisco, arrested Wednesday;
- Francisco Andres Pedro, 35, Guatemalan, arrested Wednesday, second suspected ringleader, allegedly recruited smuggling drivers;
- Juana Domingo Juan, 39, Guatemalan, arrested Wednesday, linked to multiple smuggling vehicles;
- Juan Jimenez-Pascual, 23, Guatemalan, suspected driver, currently in custody in Utah on re-entry after deportation charges;
- Henry Rodriguez-Sanchez, 27, nationality uncertain, currently in custody in Pa. for transporting illegal aliens.
Those still being sought include (mug shots are available):
- Francisco Pedro Francisco, 29, Guatemalan, third accused ringleader, owner and driver of suspected smuggling vehicles;
- Maria Francisco Marcos, 36, Guatemalan;
- Angel Gonzalez-Pelcio, 29, Guatemalan, rented suspected drop house and served as a driver;
- Gilberto Francisco-Lorenzo, 27, Guatemalan, suspected driver;
- Isaias Vasquez-Mendoza, 23, nationality uncertain, suspected driver;
- Anibal Francisco, 25, nationality uncertain, allegedly drove aliens from Phoenix to Los Angeles;
- Luis Lopez-Moncho, age unknown, nationality uncertain; suspected driver.
The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.