- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Thirty-two persons were indicted yesterday by a federal grand jury in a scheme to smuggle hundreds of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border on commercial buses bound for cities in the Southwest and Northwest.
Attorney General John Ashcroft, who announced the indictments at an afternoon press conference, said the suspected smuggling ring was run by executives and employees of the Golden State Transportation Co., a Los Angeles-based regional bus company.
Mr. Ashcroft said Golden State employees, working with at least six migrant smugglers, conspired to transport for a price between 50 and 300 undocumented immigrants a day from Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, Ariz., and El Paso, Texas, to locations in Colorado, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas and Washington state.
He said Golden State's chief executive officer and 31 other employees including corporate officers, top-level management and drivers were charged with "knowingly and willingly participating" in an illegal migrant-smuggling scheme, and with transporting and harboring illegal aliens for profit.
The indictments were handed up yesterday in U.S. District Court in Tucson.
Mr. Ashcroft said the undercover investigation, known as Operation Great Basin, began two years ago when U.S. Border Patrol agents in Tucson received information about suspected alien smuggling involving Golden State's operations in California, Arizona and Colorado.
"The terrorist attacks of September 11 remind Americans in the most painful way of the need to defend our borders while keeping them open to peaceful, freedom-loving people," he said. "The United States is a compassionate nation built on the hard work of immigrants. We remain committed to welcoming legal immigrants, but we will not tolerate violations of our borders.
"We will have even less patience for those who seek to violate the nation's immigration laws," Mr. Ashcroft said, adding that the indictments "underscore our commitment to prosecute migrant smugglers, seek forfeiture of their illegal profits and put them out of business."
James Ziglar, commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, who also attended the press conference, called the investigation and pending prosecutions "the largest human-smuggling case involving a commercial enterprise" in recent history.
Mr. Ziglar said that Golden State's assets, which he described as "very substantial," were subject to forfeiture and that INS had moved to prohibit the company from distributing or disbursing those assets subject to forfeiture.
The U.S. attorney's office in Tucson yesterday obtained a restraining order prohibiting Golden State from disposing of several of its assets, including buses and terminals.
According to the indictment, 51 percent of Golden State is owned by Sistemas Internacional de Transporte de Autobuses Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Greyhound Lines Inc.
"Human smuggling is a dangerous business, and it represents a multibillion-dollar, global, permanent problem," Mr. Ziglar said. "This case affirms our commitment at the INS to disrupt immigrant smuggling on all fronts, from the border to the boardroom."
He said authorities believe the conspiracy began in 1996, although it did not come to the attention of the Border Patrol until 1999.
According to the 39-count indictment, officials at Golden State generated a substantial amount of the company's annual revenue by transporting undocumented immigrants from the U.S.-Mexico border to Los Angeles, Denver and Yakima, Wash.
The indictment also said that the company routinely allowed migrant smugglers to purchase large blocks of tickets in advance using false names and that it modified bus routes and scheduled arrivals late at night to prevent detection by law enforcement.
Mr. Ashcroft said INS and Border Patrol agents so far had made arrests in Los Angeles, Fresno, Calif., Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Albuquerque, N.M., Las Vegas and Denver.
He said they had executed 19 search warrants. Mr. Ashcroft said nearly 300 agents and officers from various state and federal agencies cooperated in the probe "to defend the nation's borders."

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