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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Body shop owners among 6 arrested by ICE in alien smuggling probe

California ring allegedly outfitted vehicles with hidden compartments to bring aliens into U.S.

LOS ANGELES - The father and son owners of an Oxnard, Calif., body shop were among six suspects arrested this morning by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents on charges of running a human smuggling ring that outfitted vehicles with hidden compartments and used those vehicles to bring illegal aliens into the United States from Mexico.

Edgar "Chucky" Eduardo Aceves, 26, and his father, Eduardo Aceves-Murillo, 45, both of Oxnard, are charged in a six-count indictment that was returned yesterday afternoon by a federal grand jury. The indictment charges the Aceves with conspiracy to bring and transport illegal aliens for financial gain and related violations. Also named in the indictment are Eduardo's daughter, Claudia Aceves, 22; two other Oxnard residents, David Fernandez, 29, and Gladys Anilu Leal, 24; and Jose Enrique Rodriguez, Jr., 23, of National City, Calif.

According to the indictment, Edgar and Eduardo Aceves, who own Chucky's Auto Repair and Aceves Upholstery, bought extended cab pick-up trucks and SUVs, then modified the vehicles to smuggle illegal aliens into the United States. The indictment describes how they constructed hidden compartments behind the rear bench seats of the pick-up trucks, in audio speaker boxes, and in the center consoles of pick-ups and SUVs. At least one illegal alien, who was confined inside one of the compartments for a long period, suffered second-degree burns when the compartment overheated.

The defendants are accused of using the specially equipped vehicles to smuggle illegal aliens - including convicted criminals and unaccompanied juveniles - into the United States through ports of entry along the California-Mexico border. Based on evidence the organization knowingly smuggled criminal aliens into the country, the United States Attorney's Office is charging members of the Aceves family with conspiring to smuggle previously deported aliens who had been convicted of aggravated felonies. This case marks the first time the charge, which carries enhanced penalties, has been used in the Central District of California.

"Criminal aliens are a known threat to residents of the United States," said United States Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien. "My office devotes significant resources to identify, prosecute and incarcerate illegal aliens who commit other crimes while in this country. This alien smuggling ring knowing helped at least two criminal aliens enter the United States, and that conduct will lead to longer sentences."

The indictment describes 25 smuggling incidents involving the Aceves organization going back nearly three years. The defendants allegedly charged aliens up to $3,000 to transport them from Mexico to Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

"This criminal organization went to great lengths to conceal their smuggling clients, but ultimately these defendants could not hide from the law," said Kevin Kozak, deputy special agent in charge for the ICE office of investigations in Los Angeles. "This case shows yet again the desperate measures human smugglers will employ, and the risks they'll take with others' lives, all in an effort to turn a profit."

The defendants are expected to make their initial appearances in United States District Court in Los Angeles this afternoon. The indictment alleges a conspiracy to bring and transport illegal aliens for private financial gain; bringing illegal aliens for private financial gain; and aiding, assisting, and conspiring to permit certain aliens to enter the United States. If convicted, Edgar and Eduardo Aceves each face mandatory minimum sentences of three years in federal prison. Edgar Aceves faces a statutory maximum sentence of 35 years in prison, and his father could be sentenced to as much as 25 years.

Today's arrests are the latest development in an investigation that began more than two years ago. In March 2007, ICE agents executed four search warrants related to the case and arrested Arturo Rodriguez-Leon, 40, of Oxnard. Rodriguez-Leon pleaded guilty in September 2007 to smuggling a previously deported aggravated felon into the United States and is scheduled to be sentenced
March 3.

The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California. ICE received substantial assistance in the investigation from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, including the San Diego Border Patrol Sector's Smuggling Interdiction Group. The Ventura County Sheriff's Department also played a prominent role in the case and in today's enforcement action.

Editor's Note: Digital photos of some of the hidden compartments allegedly used by this smuggling organization are available on the ICE website at www.ice.gov or by contacting the ICE office of public affairs at (949) 360-3096.