U.S. Department of Justice press release...
EL CENTRO – Jose Cruz Noguez of Mexicali, Mexico, was charged in federal court today with coordinating the March 2, 2021 smuggling event that led to the deaths of 13 Mexican and Guatemalan nationals in a crash of an overloaded vehicle near Holtville, California.
Cruz, a legal permanent resident of the United States who has spent time in San Jose, California, was taken into custody last night as he crossed into the U.S. from Mexico at the Calexico Port of Entry. He made his first appearance in federal court in El Centro today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ruth Bermudez Montenegro.
Cruz was charged with Conspiracy to Bring Aliens to the United States Outside a Port of Entry Causing Serious Bodily Injury/Placing a Life in Jeopardy, and Bringing in Aliens Without Presentation for Financial Gain. Judge Montenegro ordered that Cruz remain in custody and scheduled a detention hearing for Monday, April 5, 2021 at 9 a.m.
“These smuggling networks seek maximum profit by moving as many people as possible across the border with zero regard for their safety and well-being,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman.
“Cramming dozens of people into eight-passenger vehicles and driving recklessly to avoid detection shows an utter disregard for human life. We will find and prosecute smugglers who use these methods and cause such tragic and avoidable deaths.”
Cruz came to the attention of law enforcement when he was identified by another suspected smuggler who claimed to be an associate of Cruz. The associate was arrested at the Campo Border Patrol Station for an unrelated smuggling event on March 15, two weeks after the fatal crash. The associate pointed the finger at Cruz, telling authorities he had worked for Cruz in the past, and had been recruited by Cruz to be the driver of the ill-fated vehicle from that tragic day. Cruz had offered him $1,000 per passenger, but he declined, the complaint said.