Two men, including an active-duty member of the U.S. Army, could face federal charges in connection with smuggling as many as 19 people into the country illegally through New Mexico to their final destinations.
Carlos Vives Feliciano and Gerald Espinoza are accused in a criminal complaint of having roles in what Homeland Security Investigations agents called a “transnational criminal organization” that specializes in smuggling immigrants coming to the United States illegally and is based in Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico.
One of the men said he signed up for the operation through Facebook, according to the complaint.
Neither man has been indicted, but court documents suggest that Espinoza is considering a plea deal. Feliciano, an active duty member of the Army based at Fort Bliss in El Paso, was released after posting a $5,000 bond in mid-July.
The pair was described in the criminal complaint as having been involved in different stages in the alleged smuggling operation.
Feliciano told agents that he brought five groups of three or four immigrants from Columbus, N.M., to one of two drop-off spots in Albuquerque for $2,500 a group. The documents did not give a time frame when the groups were allegedly smuggled.
He identified Espinoza, according to the complaint, as the man who connected the immigrants to their final destinations. Espinoza was released from jail in mid- July.
Feliciano also confirmed that he dropped the immigrants off at a small house in the 400 block of General Patch NE, a house whose primary occupant was identified as Espinoza, according to the complaint.
Espinoza was already on agents’ radar due to a February bust of a similar alleged smuggling attempt. The suspect in that bust also identified Espinoza as the man who fed the immigrants and connected them to their families or jobs.
On Wednesday, Espinoza’s house was empty. A neighbor said he regularly saw different types of vehicles parked in front of Espinoza’s home during night hours.
Also, the neighbor said, Espinoza appeared flustered when he quickly moved out of his the house between Aug. 25 and 28. The neighbor said Espinoza gave him some landscaping equipment that he couldn’t bring with him to the apartment where he was moving.
Feliciano was pulled over by Deming Border Patrol in late June with three immigrants who were trying to enter the country illegally. Feliciano told agents he had signed up for the alleged smuggling operation through Facebook and that he had successfully brought five groups of immigrants to Espinoza.
He also told agents that the immigrants’ family members were responsible for paying for their relatives’ safe passage. An employee at the Border Patrol checkpoint in Deming referred comment to one of the agency’s national offices in El Paso. A spokesman there did not return calls Thursday.
The pair could face federal charges of alien smuggling and harboring aliens.