Two active-duty U.S. Navy sailors pleaded not guilty Thursday to smuggling illegal Mexican immigrants through a visa processing office after-hours at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Antonio Pina and Jose Hernandez Valdez, both second class petty officers, were arraigned on charges of bringing illegal aliens for financial gain and aiding and abetting in U.S. District Court.
Pina worked as military police officer at a shore patrol station at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, which links San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico. Hernandez, a Mexican citizen, was a storekeeper assigned to a helicopter squadron at North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado, outside San Diego. The two men are friends.
Authorities said Pina drove Hernandez’s van and parked it Tuesday night outside the Old Port Building, a visa processing office located 10 feet from the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a probable cause statement filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in San Diego. Pina, who was off-duty, unlocked the building, which is open only during business hours.
Hernandez soon entered from Mexico followed by six illegal immigrants, court documents state. Hernandez and migrants exited the building, got into the van and drove off. Federal authorities followed and arrested the group a short distance away.
Pina told agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that he allowed his friend to enter the building and avoid inspection, but claimed he knew nothing about the smuggled immigrants.
The illegal migrants were from Guanajuato, Mexico and said they paid $3,000 each to be smuggled into the United States.