LAX worker to be arraigned on smuggling charges

Article Launched: 09/29/2008 07:00:23 AM PDT

A longtime city employee is set to be arraigned Monday in federal court for allegedly smuggling undocumented immigrants into the country through restricted areas of Los Angeles International Airport.

Roberto Amaya Canchola, 53, of North Hills, was charged Sept. 12 by a federal grand jury with three counts of making money from immigrant smuggling and three counts of helping passengers evade immigration officers.

Canchola was arrested Aug. 23 after agents spotted him using special access security keys to smuggle four people -- including two with criminal convictions -- off an arriving Mexicana Airlines flight and through a series of restricted elevators and hallways, officials said.

Canchola then led the undocumented immigrants, who carried no luggage, to a waiting taxi, authorities said.

Canchola, an elevator mechanic employed by Los Angeles World Airports, worked for the city for 23 years, according to court filings. He is free on $100,000 bond and on leave from LAWA pending an administrative review, officials said.

The investigation began in late July after customs officers uncovered a discrepancy in the number of Mexicana passengers clearing the airport's federal inspection area, officials said. Immigration authorities have said they believe Canchola was part of a larger smuggling operation.