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Man accused of smuggling migrants after California crash that killed 13 people

Federal prosecutors have charged a man after allegedly overloading a migrant car before it crashed in southern California, killing 13 Mexican and Guatemalan nationals.

Jose Cruz Noguez, a legal US resident of Mexico, is accused of coordinating a “smuggling event” on March 2 that led to an overloaded Ford expedition of migrants hit by a semi-truck about 15 miles north of the country. border in Imperial County, California. Cruz was arrested by authorities on Monday evening as he crossed the Mexican border, according to the Southern California District Attorney’s Office.

Authorities allege that Cruz coordinated the illegal movement of migrants to “hidden houses”, collected contraband payments from family members or sponsors and recruited drivers and scouts for the presence of law enforcement. Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman vowed to find and prosecute the smugglers in a statement following Cruz’s accusations on Tuesday.

“These smuggling networks seek maximum profit by moving as many people as possible across the border without concern for their safety and well-being,” Grossman said. “Getting dozens of people into eight-passenger vehicles and driving recklessly to avoid detection shows complete disregard for human life.”

An unidentified associate who previously worked with Cruz told federal authorities that Cruz paid him to transport and house migrants who were illegally in the United States and asked him to drive migrants illegally across the US-Mexico border. . The informant told authorities he refused, prosecutors said.

The informant took part in a secretly recorded conversation on Friday where Cruz allegedly admitted his participation in the overload of the expedition with migrants. He also said they planned to load two vehicles with a total of 60 migrants and the driver would earn $ 28,000, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Border patrol officers reviewed surveillance footage from the morning of the crash, where they observed several vehicles and around 20 people gathered south of the border. A 10-foot hole was dug in the fence and two vehicles, including the Expedition, passed through, prosecutors said.

Cruz would have admitted having cut the hole in the fence during the secretly recorded conversation, according to the US prosecutor’s office.

Cruz was charged on Tuesday with bringing aliens without presentation for the purposes of financial gain and conspiring to bring aliens to the United States out of a port of entry, causing serious injury / life threatening .

A judge ruled that Cruz should remain in custody and scheduled a detention hearing for April 5. A federal public defender for Cruz did not immediately respond to an NBC News request for comment.

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