- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 26, 2021

Homeland Security agents last week managed to catch a smuggler in Arizona who was using a fake Border Patrol vehicle and fake uniform to carry migrants deeper into the U.S. — and who had bragged about how successful it had been.

The Chevrolet Tahoe had been painted with the same green stripe and markings as a real Border Patrol vehicle, and even had a valid number tied to a real vehicle on the lot at the Border Patrol’s Tucson station.

But when agents caught up with it, they saw the paint job was shiny and clean — too new for the 2010 model year of the “cloned” vehicle. Homeland Security Investigations agents had also gotten a tip on Friday that a cloned vehicle was being used.

They set up a lookout and spotted the vehicle early Saturday morning as it breezed through a Border Patrol checkpoint on State Route 86 in southern Arizona.

The driver, who was wearing a green shirt with Border Patrol patches, cloning the look of a real agent, refused to pull over. Agents had to use a tire deflation device to bring the Tahoe to a halt, according to court documents filed in the case.

Agents say the driver, identified as Alexander Celaya-Ortiz, ran from the Tahoe, but with the help of a canine and air support they tracked him down a few hours later.

Ten migrants were in the Tahoe, and several of them told agents the smugglers had bragged about using the cloned vehicle, saying it had been a success in previous attempts to get through checkpoints.

Agents said one Mexican migrant said he was charged “a special price” — $9,000 for his smuggling attempt — because of the cloned vehicle. A Guatemalan man said he paid $12,000, and was told he was going to be picked up by a “special method that was very secure and would get him where he wanted to go in the United States.”

Cloned vehicles aren’t unheard of on the border.

During border wall construction smugglers took to cloning vehicles from construction crews that were doing the building — and would even wear orange safety vests to blend in. 

Other clones used in the past include an ambulance and fake FedEx and UPSs trucks.

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

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