- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Some members of the Aryan Brotherhood, a ferociously violent prison and street gang founded on a white supremacist ideology, are now apparently in cahoots with Mexican smuggling cartels to make money off bringing illegal immigrants into the U.S.

Glimpses of the gang’s operations emerged from court documents filed after an ingenious smuggling attempt was foiled in south Texas earlier this month, leaving officials to describe “an alien smuggling organization involving members of the Aryan Brotherhood and other individuals who were from the [Texas City] and Galveston area.”

Cody Michael Matousek, whom authorities identified as an affiliate of the Aryan Brotherhood operation, was arrested Feb. 6 for his role in the foiled smuggling attempt, which involved hiring a tow truck to haul a car through a Border Patrol checkpoint, with illegal immigrants concealed inside a special compartment in the car.

A couple of hours later and 125 miles away, near Laredo, agents were tracking a tractor-trailer they’d been tipped to.

When agents and local police moved in, they found 62 Mexicans piled into the trailer, illegal immigrants who’d paid about $7,000 each to be smuggled across the border en route for destinations in the U.S.

Later that same evening, in California, Customs and Border Protection officers manning the San Ysidro Port of Entry stopped a Jeep Liberty attempting to enter the U.S. with two Chinese illegal immigrants tucked inside the cargo area.

Other than the Aryan Brotherhood connections, which intrigued some security experts, Feb. 6 was a fairly normal day along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Back in Washington, President Trump a day before had delivered his State of the Union address, telling Congress the border was out of control, American immigration law needed an overhaul, and it should begin with more money to build a border wall.

The president’s critics contend that the border is mostly secure, that illegal immigration is down, and the chief migration problem is refugee children and families from Central America streaming north, who deserve a chance to seek asylum in the U.S.

The Washington Times used court filings from across the five southwest border federal judicial districts to get a picture of a typical day at the border and found illegal immigration is still a major industry, with some migrants paying tens of thousands of dollars per person to be smuggled across the border.

Some were nabbed at ports of entry, concealed in compartments specially built to hide them from CBP officers.

Others raft the Rio Grande or slip over border fences, then get picked up by drivers who take them further inland — with the key challenge being to get around the Border Patrol checkpoints that dot nearly every major road north from the U.S.-Mexico boundary.

“Alien smuggling is not a humanitarian enterprise, it is a criminal enterprise run by dangerous people,” said Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies. “As long as the border is not well-secured, it will continue to be a crime zone that attracts the worst elements of society and degrades the quality of life for the law-abiding people who live there. As long as illegal immigration is tolerated here, people will keep trying to come illegally and criminals will keep profiting from it.”

Feb. 6 began with Border Patrol agents spotting a Ford F-250 pickup truck suspiciously meandering along a farm-to-market road near Mission, Texas, showing all the signs of acting as a scout for a smuggling run. Soon a minivan marked as a taxi from Georgia came by, and agents stopped it. They found a legal immigrant driver and six illegal immigrant passengers.

Interviews with two of them, both Mexican, found they had rafted across the Rio Grande and then one of them called a driver, whom they identified as David Herculano-Reyna. He agreed to take the whole group to Oklahoma for $4,000.

Arrests quickly followed at a border patrol checkpoint in Laredo, where two illegal immigrants on their way to work a window repair job tried to lie about their citizenship, and then in California, where CBP officers at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, in the hours before dawn, nabbed two different cars trying to sneak people through.

In one case, two people were pried out of the quarter panels of a Chevy Suburban. They’d paid $15,000 apiece to be smuggled in, court documents said.

In the other case, a woman and her 4-year-old daughter arrived at the port in a Honda Odyssey and were alerted on by a detection dog. In a secondary inspection, officers discovered a compartment built into the underside of the vehicle. Inside they found two Mexicans, each of whom also paid $15,000.

The driver said she was getting $4,000 to drop them off at a specific apartment complex.

Perhaps the craziest arrest of the morning came in New Mexico, after agents were called to respond when a man showed up at a local police station asking to retrieve his car, which he said his housemate had been arrested in earlier in the week, in a drug and human smuggling bust.

The man retrieving the car turned out to be an illegal immigrant himself — but what interested Border Patrol agents even more was he said his housemate was harboring three other illegal immigrants at their house. The three admitted they’d climbed the border wall and were waiting at the stash house to be taken elsewhere.

As Feb. 6 drifted into the afternoon, action picked up again in California, with three Chinese migrants arrests in two separate smuggling attempts at ports of entry, and in Texas, where Border Patrol agents stopped a convoy of three cars smuggling six illegal immigrants; nabbed the truck with 62 illegal immigrants; and spotted a group of 10 illegal immigrants who’d just crossed the Rio Grande.

One of the 10, a Guatemalan, told agents he was paying 80,000 Quetzals — about $10,300 — to be smuggled to Houston.

The biggest haul, dollar-wise, came in the tow truck incident, where agents would never have known something fishy was afoot but for the alert truck driver.

According to court documents the driver, who wasn’t identified by name, said he’d gotten a call for a tow for a car broken down in Armstrong, Texas. When the driver arrived, a Hispanic man said he needed to be towed to an auto parts store in Armstrong, about 40 minutes north.

The driver began the journey, along the way crossing through the Border Patrol’s checkpoint near Sarita, on Highway 77. Five minutes later he was back, telling agents something didn’t seem right about this job.

He said the man who arranged for the tow had refused to let him into the Ford 500, and even refused to turn over the keys. The agents brought out a detection dog and sure enough, it alerted on the car’s trunk.

Removing a drain plug from the trunk bottom, an agent stuck his hand in the hole and felt something soft — a body. They quickly jimmied the door open, popped the trunk and rescued a Brazilian couple, boyfriend and girlfriend, who’d paid $20,000 a piece to be smuggled to New York.

The tow truck driver agreed to set up a sting, delivering the car to the auto parts, where agents say the Hispanic man who’d arranged the tow was waiting. Agents and local police swooped in, nabbing the man and two others, one of whom they discovered was involved with a human smuggling ring affiliated with the Aryan Brotherhood.

It’s the second smuggling incident in recent months to show signs of Aryan Brotherhood involvement.

In July, police made a traffic stop of a Ford F-150 on Highway 77 in Texas and figured there was human smuggling involved. A Border Patrol agent did an immigration inspection by phone and found two of the four occupants were, indeed, Guatemalans with no right to be in the U.S.

The driver, Joel Elkins, turned out to be a repeat offender, with two previous arrests for smuggling. In one incident he’d recruited two Aryan Brotherhood members to act as smuggling drivers, according to an affidavit signed by an ICE agent.

Elkins pleaded guilty to the July smuggling incident and is serving 21 months in prison. He did not respond to a request for comment made through his lawyer.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said the two smuggling incidents The Times spotted don’t yet appear to be a larger pattern for the Aryan Brotherhood.

“Those are isolated cases,” a spokesman told The Times, saying as best they can tell, there’s no evidence the gang regularly counts on human smuggling operations for a large part of their revenue. Instead, it’s likely the incidents were members going off on their own, the spokesman said.

Still, it seems clear there are multiple members involved.

ICE Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Eric Martinez told a judge in an affidavit supporting the arrest of the tow truck smugglers that Cody Michael Matousek “was one of the main coordinators for an alien smuggling organization involving members of the Aryan Brotherhood and other individuals who were from the [Texas City] and Galveston area.”

Security experts said it’s an issue worth watching.

“Because of the still-porous border, alien smuggling remains a very lucrative enterprise, so it’s no surprise that it attracts all manner of thugs and miscreants, including groups like the Aryan Brotherhood,” Ms. Vaughan said.

Terry Pelz, a former prison warden in Texas who became familiar with prison gangs like the Aryan Brotherhood, said he hadn’t heard about their involvement in human smuggling, but the reports didn’t surprise him.

“A little gun and meth trading probably going on as well during these exchanges,” he said. “Except for running guns south to the cartels, pushing meth in that direction has ceased due to the superior quality being made in Mexico. Smuggling would seem to fit the [Aryan Brotherhood of Texas’s] MO.”

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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