LAS CRUCES, New Mexico (Border Report) – Federal authorities believe they’ve broken a family-based crime ring that brought in, housed and transported undocumented migrants to the interior of the United States.

Six alleged members of the so-called Lopez Crime Family are in federal custody and four more remain at large in connection with a May 24 federal indictment filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico.

The indictment charges Ronaldo Galindo Lopez Escobar, a.k.a. “Tio Roni” (Uncle Ron), with organizing and leading a transnational criminal organization with associates in Guatemala, Mexico and the United States.

It also charges Rosa Adriana Lopez Escobar, a.k.a. “Tia Rosa” (Auntie Rosa), with overseeing a network of mid-level smugglers who recruited foot guides, drivers and caretakers for the unauthorized migrants.

The other eight alleged conspirators – citizens of Mexico and Guatemala – are Jose Denilson Lopez Chilel, Jose Gianluca Lopez Perez, Junior Vanegas Portillo, Deysi Marisela Lopez Ambrosio, Mildred Yanira Lopez Ambrosio, Franklin Leonardo Chilel Ramirez, Carlos Chavez Hernandez and Sebastian Rolando Cortez.

The organization operated primarily in New Mexico, Arizona and California, but it also touched parts of Texas and transported migrants to Virginia and other states far from the U.S.-Mexico border, said Jorge H. Uribarri, assistant special agent with Homeland Security Investigations in El Paso.

“This is a two-year investigation. It starts with Border Patrol apprehensions and links several events through intelligence work. It is then that (criminal) cells are identified and that is how we get to this point,” Uribarri said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico, the Border Patrol and Homeland Security Investigations announced the arrests and indictment Thursday in Las Cruces.

The indictment alleges that Uncle Roni coordinated the smuggling of Central Americans through Mexico and then the United States through southwestern New Mexico and other border enclaves.

Lopez Chilel, Lopez Perez, Vanegas Portillo, Chilel Ramirez, Chavez Hernandez and Rolando Cortez would transport and house undocumented migrants at Lopez Crime Family stash locations and, later, take them to their final destinations, the indictment alleges.

Deysi Marisela Lopez Ambrosio and Mildred Yanira Lopez Ambrosio would make peer-to-peer money transfers derived from smuggling fees to the various ring members on behalf of Uncle Roni, according to court documents.

The fact that several of the alleged co-conspirators are related is uncommon but not unheard of, Uribarri said. “It has to do with trust and secrecy. It gives confidence that secrecy will be maintained.”

Authorities encountered the group on Oct. 16, 2021, when the first of two vehicles driving in a caravan failed to stop on a roadway when U.S. Border Patrol agents tried to do a traffic stop, court documents show.

Federal investigators then documented a series of events that bared the breadth of the ring’s alleged activities. That included:

  • The transportation of a migrant from a stash house in Phoenix to his final destination and the collection of a smuggling fee from a relative.
  • The wire transfer of $9,200 to alleged accomplices in Guatemala.
  • The pick up of a group of undocumented migrants from a Deming, New Mexico, location.
  • And the driving of groups of migrants from New Mexico to the stash location in Phoenix, among many other events.

Uribarri said the vehicles used to transport the migrants were “nothing out of the ordinary,” referring to cars and vans. Without addressing the specifics of the investigation, he said when a smuggling ring is detected, the migrants being transported are usually questioned, identified and sent back to their countries.

The federal government is seeking forfeiture of the alleged smuggling ring’s assets, including money and vehicles used in the transportation of migrants.

Federal officials on Thursday urged the public to alert authorities if they suspect a human smuggling organization is operating in their neighborhood. Signs include large numbers of different people going in or out often, large amounts of garbage accruing or an excess of empty pizza boxes or other food deliveries.

You can call HSI as 866-347-2423.