A trio of men allegedly working as a “rip crew” in the Tumacacori Mountains has been accused in federal court of threatening the lives of undocumented immigrants and forcing them to pay ransoms.
According to a complaint filed on March 29 at U.S. District Court in Tucson, suspects Christian Perez-Caroil, Ruben Diaz-Vega and Alfredo Luna-Perez held three victims at gunpoint in a remote location near Amado.
The victims, who were reportedly attempting to reach Tucson, said they had become separated from their “coyote,” or guide, when they encountered Luna-Perez, who was allegedly brandishing a pistol. The victims said Luna-Perez then escorted them back to a camp area where two additional bandits were waiting.
Luna-Perez allegedly ordered the three migrants to call their families on a cell phone and ask for money to guarantee their safe release. Two of the victims’ families eventually wired $1,500 and the other family sent $1,000 to an account in Nogales, Sonora, the complaint said.
After being released, the victims, said to be from Mexico and Guatemala, were eventually apprehended by Border Patrol agents during the early morning hours of March 28. After learning of the robbery, the Border Patrol notified its agents at the I-19 checkpoint, who went after the rip crew.
At approximately 10:30 p.m. the three suspected bandits were located and apprehended.
Agents said they also located a loaded 9mm Kel-Tec Inc. PF-9 Luger handgun beneath a bush approximately 50 meters from where the bandits were apprehended.
“As these suspects arrived to the processing station, all three were identified by the material witnesses as being the bandits that held them at gunpoint in the mountains,” the complaint said.
Speaking at a Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors meeting on April 4, Sheriff Antonio Estrada said one of the crew members’ footwear helped give them away.
“He was wearing the tennis shoes of one of the victims,” Estrada said. “That was a giveaway.”
The complaint also said Perez-Caroil and Luna-Perez admitted that the pistol was used in the hold-up and that they were planning to split the money equally with Diaz-Vega. The account to receive the ransom had been set-up in Diaz’s wife’s name.
This is the first known arrest of a rip crew in Santa Cruz County since the arrest of two alleged bandits following the shooting death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.
Since then, nearly a dozen hold-ups have been reported in the canyon lands west of Nogales. In November 2011, three suspected drug mules were found dead in Tumacacori Mountains. They were reportedly shot execution-style.