A high school student in San Diego has been charged with running a smuggling ring that brought both illegal immigrants and drugs such as methamphetamine and the dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl across the U.S.-Mexico border, in the latest indication that cartels are tapping youths to help their criminal schemes.
Phillip Junior Webb was nabbed last week when he drove across the border with two illegal immigrants hiding in the trunk of his car, investigators said in court papers filed late Monday.
Authorities had apparently been keeping tabs on him for a while though, with the court documents showing they’d come across five juveniles over the last year who were caught smuggling drugs strapped on their bodies. Each of them said he had been recruited by Mr. Webb, 18, who had been a classmate and who paid them up to $500 for each smuggling attempt.
One of the juveniles reported he was successful perhaps 20 times, collecting thousands of dollars in cash during that time frame, before he was finally caught.
“We are seeing a very troubling trend and we want to warn parents and high schoolers,” said U.S. Attorney Adam L. Braverman, who announced the charges. “Our youth are being recruited by drug cartels to smuggle dangerous drugs across the border. We are going after the recruiters who exploit these kids, but the kids also need to know that they are gambling with their lives when they do this.”
His office also announced charges in another case involving students at another San Diego area high school who smuggled methamphetamine across the border.
A sheriff’s deputy spotted a drug handoff in the parking lot of San Ysidro High School between Alejandro Barba and a juvenile student at the school. The student got into Mr. Barba’s car with a backpack, spend about a minute in the car fiddling with the backpack, then get out, the government said in court papers.
The deputy later stopped Mr. Barba’s car for failure to display a front license plate, and then observed what appeared to be drugs in packages in the back seat. The packages were tested and found to contain methamphetamine.
Detectives then went back and tracked down the student who said he got the drugs from another student at the school. When detectives found that student he admitted he had smuggled them across the border, authorities said.
The documents don’t say whether any of the juveniles were charged, but Mr. Barba, 27, faces one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Mr. Webb faces counts of conspiracy to distribute meth and smuggling an illegal immigrant for financial gain.
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