Man Charged in Smuggling Scheme That Led to Deaths of 13 Migrants in Car Crash: Officials

Alleged Smuggler
Border Patrol

“Thirteen individuals lost their lives on March 2nd due to unscrupulous human smugglers,” said El Centro Sector Border Patrol Chief Gregory K. Bovino.

A man was arrested Monday and charged by the U.S. Attorney office of the Southern District of California for allegedly organizing a smuggling event at the beginning of March that ended up leading to the deaths of 13 people from Mexico and Guatemala, People reported.

Jose Cruz Noguez, 47, of Mexicali, Mexico, is a legal permanent resident of the United States who has spent time in San Jose, California, the U.S. Attornies said in a press release. He was taken into custody Monday night as he crossed into the U.S. from Mexico at the Calexico Port of Entry.

On Tuesday he made his initial court appearance, where he did not enter a plea, according to the New York Post.

Cruz Noguez was charged in federal court with conspiracy to bring aliens to the United States outside a port of entry causing serious bodily injury/placing a life in jeopardy, and bringing in aliens without presentation for financial gain. Judge Montenegro ordered that Cruz remain in custody.

He is scheduled for a detention hearing on April 5. A preliminary hearing was set for April 13, and Cruz is set to be arraigned on April 27. He could face 20 years or more in federal prison if convicted.

The U.S. Attornies office say in its press release that Federal Defenders are serving as defense counsel in this case.

On March 2, 2021, 13 people died in a car crash involving an SUV allegedly carrying 25 migrants from Mexico and Guatemala and a tractor-trailer near Southern California's border with Mexico. Twelve people died on the scene near Holtville, California, and one person died on the way to the hospital; several of the survivors suffered "serious injuries," according to prosecutors.

The SUV had its seats removed in order to cram in the 25 people, the New York Post reported.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said that following a review of border surveillance camera footage, it appears two SUVs drove through a cut-open portion of the border fence before the crash, gaining access to America, the Times of San Diego reported.

“These smuggling networks seek maximum profit by moving as many people as possible across the border with zero regard for their safety and well-being,” Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said in a statement. “Cramming dozens of people into eight-passenger vehicles and driving recklessly to avoid detection shows an utter disregard for human life. We will find and prosecute smugglers who use these methods and cause such tragic and avoidable deaths.”

Authorities say a tip from a smuggler arrested in another case allegedly gave up Cruz Noguez. The other alleged smuggler made a call to Cruz Noguez that was secretly recorded by law enforcement and in that call, Cruz Noguez allegedly admitted to smuggling the migrants who were affected by the deadly crash earlier last month, the US attorney’s office said.

In his recorded call, Cruz Noguez told his associate that he had was smuggling in 60 people between two vehicles and prosecutors say he said that the driver was going to make $28,000.

The associate told authorities that Cruz Noguez tried to recruit him for this job but he declined.

Cruz told his associate there would be up to 20 people in the vehicle and that the associate would be paid $1,000 per person for the job. According to the complaint, Cruz also told the associate that he would oversee the smuggling event and would arrange for the vehicles that crossed to go to a stash house in Holtville, California.”