Feds indict 22 people in Az for using Snapchat to recruit human smugglers

Paul Ingram
4 Min Read

A smuggling network based in Arizona used the social media app Snapchat to recruit drivers to smuggle people into the U.S. for profit, according to a series of indictments unsealed by federal officials earlier this month.

Last week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona announced 22 people were charged with conspiracy to transport illegal aliens for profit. Federal officials kept at least 13 indictments filed against the group sealed until early August, when they began making arrests.

One man, Maurcio Andrade-Garcia, was arrested on Aug. 2 in Heber City, Utah, while most of the remaining members were taken into custody in the Phoenix area.

According to court records, beginning at an “unknown date” and continuing through Dec. 30., Andrade-Garcia “did knowingly and intentionally conspire, confederate and agree” to transport people into the U.S. using Snapchat. Andrade-Garcia, and others, used the application’s “Story posts” to recruit drivers, often glamorizing smuggling, federal officials said.

In one post, provided as an example by federal officials, one smuggling coordinator posted to Snapchat that anyone trying to find a way to make major money should contact them to drive, or recruit someone in their stead to drive.

The post promised $3,000 to $20,000 for a “few hours of driving,” or recruiting someone who can drive. 

After recruiting the drivers on Snapchat, coordinators often switched to the messenging application WhatsApp to coordinate their smuggling efforts.

Federal officials said many of the indicted coordinators were identified through “law enforcement contacts” or data from cellular phones and their social media accounts.

If convicted, each person could face 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and up to three years probation.

Over the last year, federal officials in Arizona have pushed to
target human smuggling networks operating along Arizona’s border with
Mexico. Smuggling networks have increasingly used social media to connect to drivers, often young people from Phoenix, and convince them to pick up people along the border for a fee. In Cochise County, this has resulted in dozens of high-speed chases, when young smugglers attempt to evade federal and local officials, as well as several fatal crashes.

In June, United States Attorney for Arizona Gary M.
Restaino announced the U.S. Marshals Service went to Honduras to arrest a
woman federal officials called a “high-level” human smuggling
coordinator. The arrest of Maria Mendoza-Mendoza from a prison in Honduras marked the first time officials there allowed one of their citizens to face charges in the U.S. for human smuggling, Restaino said.

Mendoza-Mendoza was one of 27 people operating a smuggling ring that moved hundreds of people over the Arizona-Mexico border, making millions in the process, he said.

The group helped move people through the Altar Valley in Southern Arizona, crossing the Arizona-Mexico border via the Tohono O’odham Nation to a stash house in Arlington, Ariz., about 40 miles west of metro Phoenix.

Also in June, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on what they called a transnational human smuggling organization operating at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The sanctions targeted the Hernández Salas transnational criminal organization, an alleged human smuggling ring based in Mexicali, Baja California, that charges migrants $10,000 to $70,000 for its services.

Paul Ingram www.tucsonsentinel.com news,politics,border,crime,arizona

2023-08-29 22:45:39 , All Headlines | TucsonSentinel.com

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