A longtime elevator mechanic at Los Angeles International Airport was sentenced this week to three years in federal prison for smuggling illegal immigrants into the United States.
Roberto Amaya Canchola, 54, pleaded guilty to one count of bringing in an illegal immigrant for financial gain. The North Hills resident admitted smuggling in five foreign nationals Aug. 9 after they had arrived from Mexico. He admitted receiving $1,800 for each passenger.
"For personal gain, he compromised his job and the security of the country," Robert Schoch, special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Los Angeles, said Tuesday. "Fortunately, the team built up a very solid case on him."
In late July, federal authorities began an investigation after Customs and Border Protection officers discovered a discrepancy in the number of passengers from a Mexicana flight that went through federal inspection. They caught Canchola on surveillance video July 19 and 26 guiding passengers through an exit to a taxi waiting at the curb, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.
The passengers, all with- out luggage, were believed to have arrived on Mexicana Flight 112 from Guanajuato, Mexico, but never went through immigration and customs inspection, according to the affidavit. They had presented false alien registration numbers or Mexican passports without valid visas when boarding the flight in Mexico, authorities said.
On Aug. 9, immigration agents observed Canchola guiding four adults and one infant, who had arrived from Mexico, onto an elevator on one floor and off a different elevator on another floor, court papers said. The passengers signaled to Canchola by putting their hands over their hearts.
As part of the plea agreement, Canchola told federal authorities he used his special access keys to lead the five passengers that day through restricted areas at the airport and then guided them outside to waiting taxis, allowing them to avoid inspection by federal authorities.
Canchola, who was arrested Aug. 23 and sentenced Monday, had spent nearly two decades working for Los Angeles World Airports before his badge was confiscated the day of his arrest. Agents believe Canchola was part of a larger smuggling organization.
"We are still looking at all possibilities and all individuals that may be tied to this," Schoch said. "That part of the investigation is ongoing."