A pilot is accused of using the Bisbee-Douglas International Airport to smuggle illegal immigrants to the Phoenix area.
Border Patrol agents arrested James Bissell and three other U.S. citizens, who haven't been identified, when Bissell was getting ready to load into a single-engine plane three people from Mexico who had crossed the border illegally, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court.
Bissell told authorities two women were paying him to fly late in the evening the one-way trips to Chandler, the complaint said.
He had been flying three times a week with about three to four passengers per flight for a year.
He said the women had paid him $900 for Monday's trip, in addition to another $900 for a prior flight, court documents show.
That would be transporting in one year about 500 people in 156 flights for more than $140,000.
The illegal immigrants told authorities they crossed the border fence and were taken by smugglers to a residence where they were picked up and driven to the airport.
Bissell is charged with alien smuggling and had his first appearance Wednesday in the Tucson federal court before Magistrate Judge Bruce Macdonald.
Customs officials said it's unusual to find smugglers using planes to transport illegal immigrants.
Contact reporter Perla Trevizo at email@example.com or at 573-4213. On Twitter: @Perla_Trevizo