Four men – two U.S. citizens and two Mexican nationals – are facing federal charges after Border Patrol agents and Nogales police discovered 16 undocumented migrants locked in the room of a local home in what were described as squalid conditions.
Court documents show that on April 1, Border Patrol agents were observing a parking lot in downtown Nogales, described in a federal criminal complaint as “a popular location for undocumented non-citizen smugglers to conduct load-ups and vehicle swaps,” when they saw a gold-colored Ford Taurus pull into one corner of the lot.
The agents said they saw just the driver and one passenger in the Taurus when it pulled in. But when the vehicle left the lot approximately two minutes later, the agents could see the heads of several people in the back seat.
The Taurus proceeded to a home on the 400 block of Walnut Street where several windows had been boarded up, and parked behind the residence alongside a maroon Ford Expedition.
Then the Taurus left, free of passengers, and went to a local hotel where the driver exited and went into one of the rooms.
Meanwhile, Border Patrol agents continued to watch the house on Walnut Street and saw three people enter and exit. Then the Expedition left the property.
A Nogales Police Department officer then pulled over the Expedition for what was listed in the complaint as an “improper position of left turn.” Border Patrol agents arrived to assist, and the driver, Hector Aviles Armenta, a 28-year-old citizen of Mexico, reportedly admitted that he was in the country illegally.
Armenta also said there were a number of undocumented people in the house on Walnut Street, according to the complaint.
NPD then conducted a welfare check at the house, assisted by the Border Patrol.
They were met outside the residence by Enrique Ramos, a 44-year-old local man, who reportedly gave them permission to search the residence.
When officers entered the home, they found Adrian Collelmo, a 39-year-old Nogales resident, near the kitchen. Upstairs, inside a room that had been padlocked from the outside, they discovered 16 undocumented migrants, including a juvenile who wasn’t accompanied by their parents.
“The undocumented non-citizens did not have access to a bathroom or running water,” the complaint says, adding: “Large piles of trash were found in the room and the stench of human waste and putrid food was significant.”
Another room across the hall was also padlocked from the outside, and the migrants reportedly said it was where their phones and identification were kept.
Meanwhile at the hotel, the driver of the Taurus was seen leaving in the vehicle, which had an unmatched license plate. NPD stopped the car at the intersection of Grand and Western avenues and found the driver, 24-year-old Ramiro Medina Castillo, a Mexican national, in possession of the key that opened the padlock to the second room at the stash house.
Medina reportedly said he had crossed the border illegally two days earlier and had been taken to a hotel. There, he was given a phone and instructions from someone in Mexico.
Then, a man he knew as “El Perro” drove him to a church where he was going to be picking people up to bring them to a house. He and El Perro then picked up three people and brought them to the stash house.
On April 1, Medina said, he had been contacted by someone in Mexico who told him that people were waiting to be picked up at the church.
Aviles, the driver of the Expedition who told the officers about the migrants in the home, allegedly admitted to having crossed the border illegally approximately a month earlier for the purpose of transporting migrants. He said he was working for Medina, his cousin.
According to the complaint, Aviles said he had been using the stash house for approximately three weeks, and had been picking up 40 to 50 undocumented people per week. He reportedly said he was paid $200 per person he picked up and kept at the house.
Ramos, the man officers met outside the home, initially claimed to be the just the maintenance man. But according to the complaint, he later admitted that he know undocumented people were being kept in the upstairs apartment, and was paid $100 to $150 per week to keep quiet about it.
Collelmo was allegedly identified by one of the migrants as someone who would bring food and water to them at the Walnut Street home.
The four suspects are currently charged with two felony human-smuggling charges each at U.S. District Court in Tucson.