Edward J. Schwartz Federal building. Photo courtesy of Google Maps

Three men who allegedly recruited underage drivers from San Diego-area high schools to assist in a Mexico-based migrant-smuggling operation were indicted by a federal grand jury Tuesday.

Federal prosecutors say the defendants smuggled undocumented immigrants across the U.S.-Mexico border to motels in the greater Los Angeles area, then demanded payments of up to $8,000 per person.

Christian Hirales-Morales, 31, of Tecate, Baja California; Marcos Julian Romero, 21, of San Diego; and Sergio Anthony Santivanez, 23, of San Diego, were arraigned in San Diego federal court Tuesday for allegedly running the operation and recruiting young drivers from local high schools and online services like Craigslist.

Hirales-Morales — allegedly the organization’s leader — coordinated the illegal crossings from Mexico, according to prosecutors. Romero and Santivanez allegedly acted as his lieutenants in the U.S. and held onto the migrants until they received payments, which were funneled back to Hirales- Morales across the border.

The charges — which include bringing in illegal aliens for financial gain and conspiracy — relate to illegal smuggling that occurred between July and September, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

— City News Service

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