EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Federal authorities are holding two men and a woman in connection with 10 separate migrant smuggling events in a 16-month span in Southern Arizona.
According to federal court documents, Edward Anthony Peralta, Britni Cheyenne Bates and Jeffrey Bukki Jaimez allegedly conspired to transport at least 35 foreign nationals with no legal basis to be in the U.S. from the Mexico-Arizona border to the interior of the country.
Peralta and Bates first came to the attention of law enforcement in February 2022, when U.S. Border Patrol agents and Arizona Department of Public Safety officers stopped a 2017 Jeep Cherokee with New Mexico license plates carrying three unauthorized migrants in the back along State Route 90 near Benson.
Peralta was driving the Jeep and Bates was in the front seat with him. Court records show the two were arrested on a charge of transportation of illegal aliens. Federal officials declined prosecution because neither suspect had a criminal history, records show.
A few months later – July 21, 2022 – Border Patrol agents assigned to the Wilcox (Arizona) Station stopped a black Mercedes E350 with temporary license plates carrying five undocumented migrants. A records check revealed the plates belonged to a different vehicle registered to Bates in Tucson, Arizona. Federal officials decided not to prosecute the driver, Anthony Feldman, and he was released.
Feldman was arrested again near Wilcox less than two weeks later for allegedly transporting another five unauthorized migrants. This time he was charged, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and served 30 days in jail, records show.
Feldman was arrested a third time and his iPhone was seized on Jan. 26, 2023, while allegedly driving a black Nissan Altima with four undocumented migrants near Casa Grande, Arizona, on his way to Phoenix. This time, Feldman told federal investigators Bates gave him the iPhone and instructed him to communicate with a human smuggler known only as “Tony” to coordinate the transportation of unauthorized migrants in the United States.
According to court records, Feldman told investigators he had made 100 migrant smuggling “runs” in the past year for Peralta and Bates, whom he described as a couple. He allegedly said the couple provided him with vehicles and money to pay other drivers.
Investigators analyzed data on the iPhone and concluded Peralta and Bates communicated with human smuggling organizations in Mexico, and recruited and coordinated drivers, according to a criminal complaint. The iPhone also allegedly contained photos of videos of smuggling activity.
Federal authorities later linked a second driver, Jaimez, detained during an alleged migrant smuggling event in San Miguel, Arizona, to the smuggler known as “Tony” or “Tee Loc.” Jaimez told investigators “Tony” gets paid $1,200 by a smuggling organization for each migrant that reaches his or her destination, but only pays his drivers $300 if he has to provide a vehicle, or $700 if they use their own, court records show.
Federal investigators examined a total of three cellphones seized during migrant smuggling events, analyzed social media app messages and conducted surveillance on a residence in Tucson. They determined that “Tony” or “Tee Loc” was Peralta. Court records show Peralta and Bates were arrested last week in Tucson.
Peralta, Bates and Jaimez are facing federal migrant smuggling and transportation charges in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. Feldman, the driver who claims he’s made 100 migrant smuggling “runs,” entered into a plea agreement with the government of the United States and has been released based on time served in prison.