Officers from Gila County, the Town of Payson, and Border Patrol had their hands full as they searched, handcuffed and placed 15 people in vans before turning them over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities. The traffic stop occurred last Wednesday in the Chase Bank parking lot.
Photo by Andy Towle.
A 27-year-old man arrested Wednesday for allegedly smuggling 15 illegal immigrants through Payson was released to custom officials.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials picked up Raul Lopez-Gomez Monday.
Gomez was the only person booked on charges after a routine traffic stop near the Chase Bank Wednesday led to the discovery of a vanload of illegal immigrants.
When Gila County Sheriff’s Deputy Leonard Kerszykowski reportedly tried to stop the minivan for traffic violations near Main Street, the van continued north on Highway 87, eventually stopping in the Chase parking lot.
“When the vehicle did stop, the officer observed several people in the vehicle trying to hide,” said GCSO Lt. Tim Scott.
Deputies noted more than a dozen people were stuffed inside the van designed to hold no more than eight. Deputies removed everyone from the vehicle and a Spanish-speaking officer questioned them.
Several people in the van admitted they did not have identification documents and one man said he had paid Gomez $2,000 to be transported. It is unclear where the van was heading or where it had come from, Scott said.
Information found in the vehicle put Gomez and the van in Georgia within the last week, Scott said.
Gomez was allegedly living in Mississippi before the arrest.
Deputies arrested Gomez for human smuggling and seized the minivan and money in his possession for evidence.
According to jail officials, Gomez was released to ICE agents Monday after the GCSO did not file a felony complaint. Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores said she does not know why the GCSO did not submit a complaint to her office.
“There are many good reasons why the agency may not be submitting the report under the ‘rush complaint process’ and the deputy involved in this matter is an excellent officer such that I am sure we will receive the matter when it is ready for prosecution review,” Flores said.
A “rush complaint” is one that is sent to a grand jury within a few days of arrest to keep a defendant in custody.