The Gila County Sheriff's Office arrested two Georgia men for allegedly smuggling illegal immigrants into the United States.
Kevin Perez Lopez, 36, of Norcross, Ga., and Milton DeLeon Ramirez, 23, of Atlanta, Ga., were arrested for human smuggling after a GCSO deputy conducted a routine traffic stop at 1:20 p.m. Friday.
Deputy Dennis Newman, a highway interdiction officer, who is also a member of the Gila County Drug Task Force, was on patrol near Deer Creek on Highway 87 when he pulled over a Ford Expedition.
GCSO Lt. Tim Scott said, as Newman approached the vehicle, he saw a bunch of heads pop up in the back seat of the Expedition.
Newman counted 19 people, including the driver and passenger, in the vehicle.
After determining that none of the 17 had documentation showing they were authorized to be in the United States and they were being smuggled into the country illegally, Lopez and Ramirez were arrested.
The 17 illegal immigrants were turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whose van broke down while coming to Payson to pick them up. The ICE officers had to return to their office to get another van.
Scott said about two hours passed after Newman made the traffic stop and they were picked up by ICE.
The 17 illegal immigrants were outside the jail at about 5 p.m. Friday waiting for the ICE van.
The next day, Saturday, another nine illegal immigrants were apprehended at about 11 p.m. at the Buckhead Mesa Landfill, between Pine and Payson on Highway 87.
Scott said there were no human smugglers arrested with the nine Mexican-nationals, who also were turned over to ICE.
Apprehending 26 illegal immigrants in two days is an uncommon occurrence for the Rim Country.
"It's kind of rare to get that many," Scott said, adding that a few years ago deputies stopped a Ryder truck near Christopher Creek that was carrying 35 to 40 illegal immigrants.