Elliot Spagat, AP, June 3, 2008
Two workers for a Border Patrol contractor were arrested for allegedly conspiring to release illegal immigrants for $2,500 apiece instead of returning them to Mexico.
Christopher Saint Lucero and Manley Lamont Smith work for Wackenhut Corp., which holds a contract to escort illegal immigrants to Mexico after they are captured by Border Patrol agents in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
It was unclear how long the alleged scheme lasted and how many illegal immigrants were released on U.S. soil. According to court documents, Saint Lucero told a colleague that he had been involved in about 10 smuggling attempts.
The men were arrested Sunday after Saint Lucero allegedly escorted a group of illegal immigrants from the Border Patrol’s Chula Vista station in suburban San Diego to the border in Tijuana, Mexico. According to a statement of probable cause, Mexican authorities refused to admit two who identified themselves as Salvadorans. One was an undercover agent.
Authorities say Saint Lucero then brokered the deal to get the two men to Los Angeles. Smith allegedly met them at the Border Patrol station in a company vehicle and offered to hide them.
Marc Shapiro, a Wackenhut senior vice president, said the smuggling arrests are the first since the contract began in 2006.
Wackenhut has escorted illegal immigrants back to Mexico more than 1 million times. “This has to be put in context of those numbers,” Shapiro said.
Wackenhut, based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is cooperating with investigators, Shapiro said. Hiring background checks turned up no criminal history for either employee.