LAX Mechanic Accused Smuggling Immigrants

September 4, 2008 1:31:17 PM PDT
An elevator mechanic at Los Angeles International Airport has been arrested in a federal sting operation and charged with smuggling illegal immigrants into the country by taking them out of the terminal before they were screened by authorities, according to a published report. Longtime LAX employee Roberto Amaya Canchola, 53, was arrested at the airport on Aug. 23 by federal immigration agents, the Los Angeles Times reported in a story posted on its Web site Wednesday night.

Authorities believe Canchola, of North Hills, had led at least 15 illegal immigrants out of the airport before they had gone through immigration and customs inspection and was part of a larger smuggling operation.

"We don't know at this time how big it is," said Louis Rodi, assistant special agent in charge of immigration and customs investigations at LAX. "We believe he is not the biggest player."

Rodi believes the larger organization used Canchola for his access to, and knowledge of the airport.

He "knew security and he knew where the holes were on any given day," Rodi said.

All the illegal immigrants Canchola is suspected of smuggling arrived on Mexicana flights from Guanajuato, Mexico, officials said. Two of them had criminal records and had previously been deported.

A federal affidavit said Canchola could be seen on surveillance video on July 19 and 26 taking a total of six passengers without luggage through a terminal exit to a taxi without going through customs.

Canchola's attorney Paul Horgan declined to comment.

Canchola has been released on $100,000 bond and is scheduled to return to court Sept. 15, prosecutors said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were still investigating.

Canchola had worked for the airport for all but one year since 1989, and had undergone a background check as recently as April of this year.

Airport spokeswoman Nancy Castles said it was the first time officials could remember a city employee arrested for smuggling at the airport.


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