On Monday, June 16th, 2014 Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and held a Press Conference at the Sheriff’s Office located at 971 Jason Lopez Circle, Florence, Az. Also in attendance at the Press Conference was Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles. The Press Conference announced the arrest and prosecution of eight Mexican Drug Cartel members who were working as “Scouts
” in the hilltops overlooking one of the most active drug and human smuggling corridors in all of America. The scouts were on the hilltops for several weeks working as “spotters
” for the “guides
” as they smuggled drug loads and humans. The scouts would use the high vantage locations on hilltops and mountains and communicate with the guides and members of the Mexican Drug Cartels to let them know when law enforcement was in the area. They communicated by using cell phones and digitally encrypted radios.
The investigation first began on February 20th, 2014 at 8:52 a.m when a Pinal County Sheriff’s K-9 deputy stopped a 1999 Chevy E-2500 van in the area of Sunland Gin Road and West Pretzer Road. The driver of the vehicle was later identified as Ramon Garcia (age 22 of Mexico
). Garcia was communicating on his cell phone and when the deputy approached, he told him the “spotters” in the area were watching him and told him to run but he didn’t. Inside of his vehicle were nearly a dozen industrial sized trash bags filled with 600 pounds of food, produce and meats. There were also two spare tires and a dozen cans full of gas.
Ramon admitted he was a resupply vehicle and had been paid $4,000 to pick up the van in Chandler and drive it to the Silverbell area where he would drop off the supplies to the drug cartel “spotters
” aka “scouts
After this traffic stop, members of the U.S. Border Patrol, Pinal County Sheriff’s Office and the Pinal County Attorney’s Office met regarding a “Scout Interdiction
Late February 2014
, U.S. Border Patrol arrested the first scout in a hilltop in Pinal County. On March 7th, 2014
members of the Pinal County Sheriff’s SWAT and Anti-Smuggling Enforcement Unit along with U.S. Border Patrol conducted a second detail near Stanfield. At 6 a.m. a U.S. Border Patrol Blackhawk Helicopter filled with BORTAC members descended on a predetermined hilltop known as “lookout post
” for the scouts. Three scouts ran from the hilltop and began to traverse mountain and then attempted to hide in caves or behind rock piles.
Jesus Nunez-Rios (age 27 of Mexico
), Jose Aispuro (age 23 of Mexico
) and Jose Gambino-Ruiz (age 25 of Mexico
) were all taken into custody. Evidence including nine cell phones, three cell phone chargers, car batteries, large water jugs, multi-tools, two solar panels, radio chargers, five radio batteries, and binoculars were all collected. Panoramic photos of the area were taken from the hilltops showing the vantage points from the caves.
Jesus Nunez-Rios admitted to detectives, he had been on the hilltop for 8 to 10 days. He was employed as a scout and was given $100 for each group that made it through his area safely. He said that four groups had successfully passed through since he has been on the hilltop.
Jose Aispuro admitted to detectives, he had been on the hilltop for 8 to 10 days. He was employed as a scout and was given a cell phone by a cartel associate. He was paid $100 for each group that made it through his area safely. Paul Babeu, Sheriff PCSO and U.S. Border Patrol Arrest Drug Cartel Scouts in Hilltops Pinal County Attorney’s Office First in the Country to Prosecute Them Jose Gambino-Ruiz admitted to detectives, he claimed he was walking with a group of migrants when their guide abandoned them. He climbed the hilltop to avoid being found by law enforcement. He was in possession of two cell phones.
All three suspects were booked into the Pinal County Jail for Conspiracy to Smuggle Marijuana and Aiding in a Criminal Syndicate
. On March 10th, 2014
, members of the Pinal County Sheriff’s SWAT and Anti-Smuggling Enforcement Unit along with U.S. Border Patrol conducted a third detail near Red Rock. At 7 a.m. a U.S. Border Patrol Blackhawk Helicopter filled with BORTAC members descended on a predetermined hilltop known as “lookout post
” for the scouts. Three scouts ran from the hilltop and began to traverse the east and west side of the mountain. Two of the scouts were located and the third was never found.
Sergio Ramirez-Ojeda (age 32 of Mexico
) and Francisco Noriega-Nunez (age 30 of Mexico
) were taken into custody.
Evidence including an AR-15 rifle, multiple cell phones, a car battery, water jugs, multi-tool, solar panel, radio chargers, sleeping bags, radios and binoculars were all collected. Panoramic photos of the area were taken from the hilltops showing the vantage points from the caves.
Sergio Ramirez-Ojeda admitted to detectives he had been on the hilltop for 5 days. He was employed as a scout and given $100 for each group that made it through his area safely.
Francisco Noriega-Nunez admitted to detectives he had been on the hilltop for approximately one month. He knew he was going to be paid an unspecified amount of money for each group that made it though his area safely. He also admitted to being in possession of the AR-15 rifle.
A short time later, two more scouts were located back in Standfield near the same hilltops the scouts had been pulled out of on March 7th, 2014. The two scouts were arrested and later identified as Jesus DeLaRocha (age 25 of Mexico
) and Miguel Ochoa-St. Cairos (age 30 of Mexico
Jesus DeLaRocha admitted to detectives, to working for the cartels as a scout. He said that he was going to get paid when he got back to Mexico. He said that when he saw law enforcement coming he broke the cell phone which he used to communicate with the people in Mexico. He admitted to assisting two loads as they traveled through his area. He also admitted to handling the AR-15 rifle.
Miguel Ochoa-St.Cairos admitted to detectives, he crossed the border into the United States on February 20th, 2014. He came across with 10 other people and they had walked for 20 days. A man by the name of “Gordo” took him to the top of the hill to get food and then left him.
Sergio Ramirez-Ojeda, Francisco Noriega-Nunez, Jesus DeLaRocha and Miguel Ochoa-St.Cairos were booked into the Pinal County Jail for Conspiracy to Smuggle Marijuana and Aiding in a Criminal Syndicate
Sheriff Paul Babeu stated, “The arrest of these drug cartel scouts on mountain tops is further proof that the border is not secure. The federal government continues to put up signs warning Americans that it is not safe to travel due to criminal smuggling. President Obama should redirect the endless money he's spending on supporting illegals and unaccompanied children and finally secure the US/Mexican Border. Most Americans would be shocked to learn that Mexican Drug Cartels control high points along their trafficking corridors to safeguard the billion dollar operations
Pinal County, Arizona is 70 miles north of the U.S./Mexico border. Pinal County has been designated as one of the top counties in all of America for drug and human smuggling. Smugglers who enter the United States from Mexico travel through Pima, Santa Cruz, Cochise or Yuma County and are then funneled into Pinal County. The cartels from Mexico, specifically the Sinaloa Drug Cartel have used this corridor because of the terrain features and close proximity to the Interstates 8 and 10.
Pinal County has several signs written in English for our citizens to read which state, “Travel Caution – Smuggling and Illegal Immigration May Be Encountered In This Area
Armed drug cartel members frequently escort drug and human smugglers from the smuggling corridors to awaiting vehicles.
The United States Border Patrol has identified 75 to 100 “lookout posts
” used by “scouts
” in this drug and human smuggling corridor which runs through Pinal County. The “scouts
” use these locations on hilltops along with encrypted radios to let the cartel members who are smuggling the drug and human loads know when law enforcement is not in the area.
During the heavy drug smuggling cycles when marijuana as a crop is being produced, the scouts will maintain their position up on a hilltop for extended periods of time. These scouts are able to do this because of the logistical support in place by the Drug Trade Organizations (DTO’s
) which provides what are referred to as “resupply loads
” such as food, water, batteries, camping supplies, weapons, ammunition, clothing, phones and radios.