A legal permanent resident of the United States was charged on Tuesday with organizing the smuggling event earlier this month that saw 13 Mexican and Guatemalan nationals killed in an accident.
A Department of Justice press release revealed that Jose Cruz Noguez of Mexicali, Mexico, was taken into custody late Monday as he was passing into the US through the Calexico Port of Entry. He will remain in custody until his April 5 detention hearing.
Cruz was charged with Conspiracy to Bring Aliens to the United States Outside a Port of Entry Causing Serious Bodily Injury/Placing a Life in Jeopardy, and Bringing in Aliens Without Presentation for Financial Gain, according to the press release.
Law enforcement was informed of Cruz’s actions after an alleged associate of Cruz was arrested for smuggling on March 15 at the Campo Border Patrol Station.
"The associate pointed the finger at Cruz, telling authorities he had worked for Cruz in the past, and had been recruited by Cruz to be the driver of the ill-fated vehicle from that tragic day. Cruz had offered him $1,000 per passenger, but he declined," stated the press release.
The alleged associate had recorded a conversation between himself and Cruz on March 26 in which Cruz "confirmed his involvement in the March 2, 2021, event, including that his other associates cut the border fence; that the vehicles were fully loaded; and that he collected money for the event. Further, Cruz stated there were 60 "Pollos" – his term for customers – in the two vehicles and the driver was going to make $28,000."
The associate had grown up in Mexicali, Mexico and entered the US illegally six months prior. He called Cruz a coordinator. Cruz had paid him to transport illegal aliens from El Centro, California to Los Angelos, and to harbor an illegal individual with him in El Centro. "According to the associate, Cruz oversees the transportation of individuals who are in the United States illegally to stash houses; collects smuggling payments from family members or sponsors; recruits drivers; and scouts for the presence of law enforcement," the press release continues.
On March 2 just after 6 am, El Centro Border Patrol Agents responded to a report of more than a dozen people running into the desert from a burning GMC Yukon SUV in Holtville, California. Patrol Agents apprehended 19 people who were hiding in the bushes nearby.
Just after 6 am, separate from the previous event a surveillance operator at the Calexico Border Patrol Station saw multiple vehicles and people gathering just south of the border. A 10 ft section of the border wall had been cut and was lying on the ground. Around 5:23 in the morning the GMC Yukon SUV and a Ford Expedition had crossed through that hole.
At 7:05, Patrol Agents responded to a request to assist with a mass-casualty vehicle crash in Holtville from the Calexico Police Department. One of the vehicles involved was the Ford Explorer seen crossing through the border earlier in the day. 25 people had been in the vehicle at the time of the wreck.
12 people died at the scene of the crash including the driver, with an additional person dying in transit to the hospital. Many of the surviving 12 people sustained serious injuries.
"These smuggling networks seek maximum profit by moving as many people as possible across the border with zero regard for their safety and well-being,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “Cramming dozens of people into eight-passenger vehicles and driving recklessly to avoid detection shows an utter disregard for human life. We will find and prosecute smugglers who use these methods and cause such tragic and avoidable deaths."