Illegal Immigrant Smuggling Ring Busted

Last Update: 3/13 8:03 pm

Eight people were charged with being part of a ring that smuggled undocumented aliens into the United States in special dashboard compartments or inside vehicle trunks, according to a federal indictment unsealed Thursday.

Marisela Castro-Juarez, Marisa Melena Mafnas, David Montes, Julie Hernandez, Randal Mark Panter, Lorenzo Pecoraro, Jose Parada-Velazquez and John Walter Schuh were each charged with conspiracy to smuggle aliens, as well as individual counts of either bringing aliens to the United States for financial gain or transportation of aliens within the United States.

Additionally, Castro-Juarez was charged with engaging in financial transactions of more than $10,000, with money derived from alien smuggling, and engaging in financial transactions with money derived from alien smuggling with the intent to avoid the federal monetary reporting requirements.

The indictment also seeks forfeiture of a house in Chula Vista, as well as more than $598,000.

According to the indictment, the organization -- led by Castro-Juarez -- was responsible for smuggling numerous aliens since 2001.

Additionally, many cash transactions involving proceeds of the alien smuggling operation were identified and included in the charges in the indictment.

"This alien smuggling organization profited upon desperate individuals willing to try any means to unlawfully enter the United States," said U.S. Attorney Karen Hewitt. "We are committed to prosecuting those individuals who traffic in humans in Southern California."

The defendants were arrested following a 30-month investigation, authorities said.