Eastern Europeans sneaked into U.S.
By Onell R. Soto
September 7, 2005

A Carmel Valley man who headed a ring that smuggled dozens of Eastern Europeans into the United States through Tijuana was sentenced yesterday to three years in prison and forced to give up his house.

Yervand Asriyants, 42, a native of Azerbaijan, didn't speak during a hearing before Chief U.S. District Judge Irma E. Gonzalez. Asriyants had pleaded guilty June 9 to conspiracy and immigrant smuggling charges.

Asriyants was arrested after an investigation by FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents into a series of smuggling attempts at the region's border crossings involving Eastern European men, women and children.

"He was smuggling aliens across the border that were not what we consider to be typical," said FBI agent Roy Lemons, who added that the case had special urgency because of security concerns after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Lemons said no terrorist links were found.

The immigrants said they agreed to pay $5,000 to $10,000 to be brought from Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Ukraine into the United States through Mexico.

Prosecutors said the immigrants were caught while crossing the border by attempting to claim U.S. citizenship and presenting borrowed or fake passports or driver licenses.

Investigators caught 43 people in the smuggling attempts, but believe many others succeeded in the operation dating to the mid-1990s.

As part of his sentencing, Asriyants was ordered to forfeit $36,000 seized from his house, a safe-deposit box and the five-bedroom Carmel Valley home he bought for $946,000 in 2003. Prosecutors say the house was bought with illegally obtained money.

Four members of the ring have been sentenced and three await sentencing, prosecutors said.

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