A high school senior in Chula Vista was charged Monday in federal court with recruiting classmates to smuggle drugs from Mexico into the United States, officials said.
Phillip Junior Webb, 18, was charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and smuggling foreign nationals into the U.S. for financial gain, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney's office.
Webb is accused of recruiting at least four students between July and Oct. 23 of last year to smuggle drugs from Mexico into the U.S. on multiple occasions, according to the criminal complaint.
Webb asked the minors to strap methamphetamine and fentanyl onto their bodies before they crossed into the U.S. at the San Ysidro or Otay Mesa ports of entry, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
One minor told agents that he successfully smuggled the drugs into the county about 15 times, sometimes twice a day, the criminal complaint said.
Another minor who said he had smuggled drugs for Webb told agents he was paid about $300 to do so and that Webb paid him during one transaction in the bathroom at Castle Park High School, authorities said.
If he is convicted of all counts, Webb could spend a minimum of 13 years in prison, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
The former Castle Park High student was caught last week when he attempted to smuggle a Chinese and Mexican national into the United States in the trunk of his vehicle, the U.S. attorney's office statement said.
The Mexican national told agents that he was trying to go to Stockton for work and that he paid Webb $14,000 smuggle him into the U.S., according to the criminal complaint.
Webb is set to appear in court again on Thursday for a detention hearing.
In an unrelated criminal complaint, a 27-year-old San Diego man was also charged Monday with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.
The suspect, Alejandro Barba, was detained on May 1 after agents spotted an unnamed minor enter his vehicle that was parked at San Ysidro High School, remove items from his backpack and then leave the car, according to a criminal complaint.
When agents stopped Barba's car, they found five kilograms of methamphetamine in the backseat, the criminal complaint said.
Barba is accused of recruiting the San Ysidro High student to smuggle methamphetamine across the border.
Barba is set to appear in court this week.
"We are seeing a very troubling trend and we want to warn parents and high schoolers," U.S. Atty. Adam L. Braverman said in a statement. "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."
U.S. Atty. Sherri Walker Hobson said students who live in Mexico and cross the border to attend high school in the U.S. are most susceptible and are ones most likely to be exploited.
"The message has to go out to students. We are going to do put up billboards at these high schools and educate these young people to let them know what they are being asked to do is deadly," Hobson said.
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1:35 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from U.S. Atty. Sherri Walker Hobson.