Travel Agency Investigations ARIZONA STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFTEY PHOENIX POLICE DEPARTMENT
Travel Agency Investigation The Phoenix area has long been recognized by law enforcement as a location favored by human smugglers to house illegal aliens until they can be moved to their final destinations. The obvious airport to move the UDA’s should be Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. However this investigation has revealed that the UDAs are not being flown out of Phoenix but are being transported approximately 300 miles to Las Vegas.
Travel Agency Investigation On February 17, 2006 Detectives from the State of Arizona Financial Crimes Task Force watched several subjects receive money from a Western Union remitter store.
Travel Agency Investigation February 17, 2006 Traffic stop conducted on the Van: Van had 1 coyote and 6 undocumented aliens Investigation led back to 13006 W Peoria Avenue 30 undocumented aliens and 5 coyote’s found inside of the house Invoices found for 25 airline tickets purchased from Apricus TravelAgency located at 4041 E Thomas Road in Phoenix, AZ
Travel Agency Investigation The Airline Tickets • 23 of the 25 people on the airline invoices were UDAs found inside of 13006 W. Peoria. • The flights were all scheduled to travel from Las Vegas McCarran Airport to various locations throughout the United States. • All the flights were due to leave the next day and were one way flights.
Travel Agency Investigation February 23, 2006 a Search Warrant was served on Apricus Travel Agency
Travel Agency Investigation Apricus Travel Agency • The investigation revealed that approximately 90% of Apricus Travel’s domestic reservations were booked out of McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. • Many of the people who were booking flights were repeat customers who continually purchased flights for groups of people on one way tickets • Identification is not required to book flights • Most tickets were paid for with cash • In a two year period Apricus Travel issued over 15,000 one-way tickets that originated out of McCarran Airport for a total of over 3 million dollars
Travel Agency Investigation Average Phoenix Metropolitan Travel Agency Business • 95% of domestic flights booked through a Phoenix Travel Agency originate at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. • Less than 5% of domestic airline travel booked is one way. • 95% of domestic flights are booked by the subject who is the person flying or a member of the persons family. • One large, legitimate travel agency located in the Phoenix area, recorded only 3 tickets booked out of Las Vegas since 2003!
Travel Agency Investigation Why LasVegas?? • Border Patrol and ICE Agents maintain a high presence at Sky Harbor Airport and vigorously enforce the federal laws prohibiting human smuggling. • Uniformed and plain cloths Phoenix Police Officers stationed at the airport enforce State of Arizona laws that prohibit all smuggling including human smuggling. • In Nevada there are no state laws prohibiting alien smuggling. ICE Agents and Border Patrol Agents do not have a high presence at McCarran Airport.
Travel Agency Investigation How Bad is the Problem? • June 2006- ICE Agents investigate coyote/UDA activity in or around McCarran Airport. • Many AZ vehicles were found at low rent hotels close to the airport. The investigation showed these vehicles were being utilized to transport UDAs. • The UDA’s that were contacted during this investigation did not live in the Vegas area. • During the high smuggling season, Wickenburg Police Department has observed, on average, approximately 200 UDAs per day being driven through Wickenburg. • During traffic stops, police learned that the passengers were being driven to McCarran Airport. The coyotes stated they avoided flying out of Phoenix Sky Harbor due to the strong presence of law enforcement.
Travel Agency Investigation • In September of 2006 Detectives from the Arizona State Financial Crimes Task Force went to Wickenburg. • Two vans were stopped that were found to be transporting UDAs. Occupants stated they had been smuggled from Mexico and had been held in Phoenix area drop houses. They stated they were being transported to McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. • In October of 2006, an informant was debriefed that had worked with two human smuggling organizations. Both organizations believed there was too much Law Enforcement at Sky Harbor. • The organizations would use local travel agencies to purchase airline tickets for the UDAs and ground transport them from the Phoenix area to Las Vegas. They were temporarily housed in inexpensive hotels until their flights were due to depart from McCarran Airport.
Travel Agency Investigations Airline Reporting Agency • Most legitimate travel agencies are certified and records are kept, through an agency known as ARC (Airline Reporting Corporation). ARC certifies the travel agency to do business with different airlines. • ARC serves as the settlement agent with the airline carriers for the tickets purchased through travel agencies . The only major carriers not included through ARC are Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue. • ARC representatives stated it was highly unusual for a travel agency in Phoenix to be consistently booking one way travel from Las Vegas. They stated there is no obvious legitimate reason for a travel agency in Phoenix to issue tickets for one way travel out of Las Vegas for passengers.
Travel Agency Investigation Detective’s obtained subpoenaed information from ARC and Southwest Airlines that resulted in investigations at 5 travel agencies for possible facilitators of human smuggling. • Mundo Travel, 3620 E Thomas Road • Planet Travel, 5233 S Central Avenue • Acupulco Travel, 4344 W Indian School Road • Marina Tours, 7035 S Central Avenue 535 E Southern Avenue, Mesa • Toronto Travel, 7607 E McDowell Road, Scottsdale
Travel Agency Investigation MCCARRAN AIRPORT SKY HARBOR AIRPORT Indicators • Phoenix area travel agencies that booked flights originating from McCarran Airport although it is approximately 300 miles away and a smaller airport • Hispanic surnames • One individual buys a group of tickets, many times a repeat customer • One way travel • Each ticket to a different city • Many are paid for with cash
Travel Agency Investigation • An undercover detective, posed as a coyote, went into the suspected travel agencies and purchased airline tickets for UDAs allegedly under his control. • The detective made it very clear he was booking flights for illegal aliens. Some agents even gave “tips” on how to successfully get the UDA’s through the airport. Examples: Type of ID’s, how many people to bring to the airport, which airport to use, what type of flight to book (direct vs layovers) • All of the travel agencies booked the flights without question and most of them booked the flights originating from McCarran Airport-although it is 300 miles away. The Undercover Investigations
Travel Agency Investigation U/C Detective previously showed the list of names and flights to the travel agent (defendant). He had stated to her that some subjects on the list had been arrested by Immigration. Defendant = That’s so awful huh, when they get them. U/C=Yeah, tomorrow, tomorrow a bunch are coming in. Defendant = Yeah U/C = Yeah Defendant = So where are they crossing from? U/C = From Sasabe Defendant = Oh, but how many hours does it take to walk through there? U/C = No, it’s about 2 nights 4344 W Indian School Defendant = In January, the sister of a brother-n-law, they tried crossing her from different locations at the border, she started on the 5th of January, and she didn’t get across until the 10th of February. They got her three times. U/C = Yeah, that happens. Defendant = They tried from…I think that was the only place they didn’t try was from Sasabe.
Travel Agency Investigations • Search Warrants on six travel agency’s • Search Warrant on two private residence’s • Grand Jury March 14th for 14 suspects Charges • Smuggling a Human Being for Profit • Money Laundering • Participating in or Assisting in a Criminal Syndicate • Conspiracy • Racketeering
Travel Agency Investigations Mundo Travel, 3620 E Thomas Road TIMETICKETSTOTAL 7 months 733 $188,799 *To minimize their competition, Apricus Travel reported to ARC that Mundo Travel was operating 3 branches in Phoenix that were not licensed by ARC. Substitute Assets- per contract, parent companies areresponsible for the acts of their branches. Requesting judgments through the AZ Supreme Court for a total of $5.3 Million in substitute assets. Planet Travel, 5233 S Central Avenue TIMETICKETSTOTAL 3 years 3,479 $771,458 Acupulco Travel, 4344 W Indian School Rd TIMETICKETSTOTAL 3 years 1,855 $412,787 Marina Tours, 7035 S Central Avenue 535 E Southern, Mesa TIMETICKETSTOTAL 3 years 216 $61,073 Apricus Travel, 4041 E Thomas Road TIMETICKETSTOTAL 2 years 14,833 $3,094,623
Travel Agency Investigations Thank-you!