Man accused of smuggling illegal immigrants

A California man was arrested Thursday after Fruita police stopped a van on Interstate 70 near Mack and found 18 illegal immigrants inside.

Jose Espediador Ramirez Jr., 27, of Ontario, Calif., appeared in court Friday via video feed from Mesa County Jail and was advised he could be charged with 18 felony counts of smuggling humans. Mesa County Judge Gretchen Larson set his bond at $75,000.

According to an arrest affidavit, Fruita police officer Cheryl Yaws was working with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department on a joint drug interdiction effort on I-70 when she spotted a white van traveling east in the left lane without passing another vehicle.

Yaws caught up to the van, which moved to the right lane and slowed down to 55 mph.

“I could see the vehicle was carrying a lot of weight in the back. It appeared as though the driver was having trouble steering the vehicle as it was weaving within its travel lane,” Yaws wrote in the affidavit.

Yaws stopped the van and saw curtains moving in the rear portion of the van as she approached it. She saw a woman in the right front passenger seat, another woman seated on the floor between the seats and a number of people in the back of the van.

The driver, Ramirez, told Yaws he was paid $30 per person to bring the illegal immigrants into the United States from Mexico and that they were going to look for work, the affidavit said. Officer John Coughran said the van was traveling from Arizona to Kansas.

Police found $464 in cash in Ramirez’s wallet.

Coughran said a juvenile found in the van has been taken back to Mexico. The adults in the van are in the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Prosecutors are expected to formally file charges June 11.


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