February 28, 2008

U.S. immigration officials said on Thursday they had dismantled a Guatemalan human smuggling ring that brought more than 100 illegal immigrants a week into the Los Angeles area.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said 13 people, including two of the suspected ringleaders, face charges in connection with what officials described as one of the largest human smuggling operations uncovered on the West Coast in recent years.

The nearly three-year investigation was sparked by the discovery in May 2005 of two “drop” houses in south Los Angeles where more than 140 illegal immigrants were living.

According to court documents, immigration agents uncovered an organization run by Guatemalan nationals that provided housing and transport to immigrants who had already been smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border to Phoenix.

The immigrants were taken from Arizona to the Los Angeles area where they were held in drop houses before being loaded onto vehicles and driven to U.S. cities around the nation.

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