Federal agents arrested 11 people on suspicion of supplying drug-trafficking scouts with food and equipment.
The members of the resupply network are accused of hauling radios, cellphones, batteries, solar panels, fuel, food, clothes, toiletries, and other items to the scouts, who perch on mountainsides in Southern Arizona for weeks or months at a time, according to a 15-page federal complaint unsealed Feb. 8 in U.S. District Court in Tucson.
Scouts use binoculars and encrypted radios to guide drug and human smugglers past law enforcement officers, particularly in the corridor that runs from the international border through the Tohono O’odham Reservation and on to Phoenix.
The 11 people arrested Feb. 3 are facing charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana, according to a Feb. 22 indictment.
The charges came after agents with the Homeland Security Investigations office in Sells launched a probe in October 2015 of an organization that smuggled marijuana through the reservation to Phoenix. As part of that investigation, HSI agents targeted scouts and their resupply networks, according to the complaint.
The supplies were gathered in the Phoenix home of the mother of the person in charge of supplying the scouts, 23-year-old Maria Roxanna Acosta Quintana, or at the home of her brother Ruben Villegas Acosta, 28, and sister-in-law Angelica Marie Alvarado, 32.
Drivers picked up the supplies from the houses or at other locations in Phoenix, such as Walmart parking lots, motels, tire shops, and mechanic shops.
From Phoenix, drivers hauled the supplies, which were usually packed inside trash bags, to the Tohono O’odham Reservation and dropped off the supplies at residences in the villages of GuVo, Hickiwan, Cobabi, Charco, and Nolia, according to the complaint.
In some cases, the drivers stopped at preselected mile markers or intersections on federal routes on the reservation, where men wearing camouflage would emerge from the brush to collect the supplies.
Authorities based their allegations on statements from a confidential source, evidence gathered through search warrants, surveillance, vehicle-tracking devices, and traffic stops, according to the complaint.
All of the defendants are U.S. citizens, except for Mexican national Ruben Villegas Acosta. Antonio Pasqual Aguilar Sanchez, 36, was detained after his arrest, but the other 10 defendants were released on their own recognizance.
Scouts often do not possess drugs at the time of their arrest, which made it difficult to prosecute them for drug smuggling. Federal authorities saw their first conviction of a scout on a conspiracy charge in 2015 in federal court in Tucson.
The other people arrested in connection with the resupply network were:
- Nicole Havier, 42
- Dora Carreras, 43
- Fawn Eveningstar Manuel, 34
- Annai Arlene Hernandez, 23
- Jesus Gilberto Parra Acosta, 21
- Jackie Ann Garcia, 29
- Andrew Ortega, 60