Owner of Calexico motel admits he was aware of smuggling

February 13, 2002|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The owner of a Calexico motel has pleaded guilty in federal court here to a charge he knew a complex immigrant smuggling ring was operating in his motel and did not report it to authorities.

Richard Melvin Graham, owner of the Don Juan Motel, agreed to pay a $120,000 fine and was sentenced to three years of probation.

His common-law wife, Silvia Tamayo Garcia, who pleaded guilty to the same charge, was sentenced to 10 months in custody. She has served part of that time and was ordered to turn herself in to authorities by July.

Neither Graham nor Garcia is in custody.

In exchange for their pleas, the government dismissed other smuggling charges against the couple.

The two were arrested along with others in November 2000 following a two-year investigation that focused on an immigrant-smuggling operation that spanned three counties — Imperial, Riverside and Los Angeles.


In a three-county raid then, the U.S. Border Patrol El Centro sector anti-smuggling unit and special agents from the Border Patrol's Los Angeles district office served warrants in the three counties. Along with Graham and Garcia, 13 other people were arrested in the case.

According to the Border Patrol, 12 have pleaded guilty to smuggling charges and one individual has a court date set for March. Officials also said the search is still on for three fugitives in the case.

The investigating started in September 1998 when 23 undocumented immigrants were taken into custody as they were seen leaving the Don Juan Motel at 344 E. 4th St. in Calexico.

Border Patrol authorities then launched an investigation that would continue until November 2000, when search warrants were served that led to the arrests of Graham, Garcia and others.

Along with the arrests at the Don Juan, a Brawley apartment was raided, as were houses in Indio and Los Angeles.

Authorities have confiscated $46,000 from Graham. He now must pay $75,000 — the remaining part of the $120,000 fine — within 11 weeks or his motel will be confiscated.

Annie Gutierrez, an assistant U.S. attorney, said the investigation succeeded in breaking up that smuggling ring but she added alien smuggling continues to be a problem in the Imperial Valley.

She said in this case smugglers were charging up to $1,500 to move immigrants to Los Angeles.

She added smuggling is a lucrative operation and those involved are willing to endanger people's lives for such profits.

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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