NILAND, Calif. — It was a special delivery indeed — 13 suspected illegal immigrants from Mexico stuffed in a phony UPS van.
The U.S. Border Patrol said Tuesday that agents stopped the van Friday as the driver tried to circumvent a highway checkpoint near Niland, about 150 miles east of San Diego in California’s Imperial Valley, near the Mexican border.
The van looked like a legitimate United Parcel Service delivery vehicle, except the company decal on the back door was slightly crooked.
The driver, U.S. citizen Daniel Lopez, was charged in federal court in El Centro with illegal transportation of aliens.
Carlos Goens, the driver of another truck, was charged with the same crime after being detained at a Border Patrol checkpoint. He is suspected of coordinating with the UPS van.
Migrants told authorities they had agreed to pay between $5,000 and $8,000 each to be smuggled into the United States, according to the criminal complaint.
An agent reported seeing Goens leave a suspected stash house for illegal immigrants in the town of Brawley, leading authorities to the UPS vehicle. Another agent pulled over the UPS van at a mobile home park in Niland.
Attorneys for Goens and Lopez did not immediately respond to phone messages Wednesday.
Border Patrol agents recently began visiting Imperial Valley businesses and government agencies to warn about smugglers cloning their vehicles, said spokesman Adrian Corona. Telltale signs include misspellings on agency or company logos and crooked decals.
In recent years, smugglers have used fake vehicles of the California Highway Patrol and Imperial Irrigation District.
Last year, a white van filled with 13 illegal immigrants from Mexico dressed as clean-cut Marines were stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint near San Diego.
A Border Patrol agent who had served in the Marine Corps wasn’t fooled, especially when the driver didn’t know the Corps’ birthday.