A Los Lunas man transporting three immigrants was charged with human trafficking Sunday after an officer pulled him over for a non-functioning brake light.
Missael Flores-Meraz, 21, was arrested while transporting a 28-year-old man, a 22-year-old man and a 25-year-old woman who crossed the border.
“You’re talking about a potential network of people working together to move people,” said Hobbs Police Department Deputy Chief Brian Dunlap. “If someone is a victim of a crime, regardless of their immigration status, our job is to make sure we investigate the crime thoroughly.”
Officers took Flores-Meraz to Hobbs City Jail where he was booked for possession of a controlled substance and three counts of human trafficking.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents took custody of the three passengers after they were interviewed at the HPD station.
The three passengers admitted to crossing the U.S. border illegally. Flores-Meraz reportedly picked them up near the border in El Paso, Texas.
According to police reports, one of the passengers arranged transport to the border for $2,000 through a contact in Guatemala. He then paid $1,500 for help crossing.
He and another passenger met with an individual who directed them to a space for them to run across the border. The person had a rifle and told them he would kill them if they turned around.
One passenger said he was going to pay $8,000 to get to Los Angeles, paying a portion of the total price after arriving at each location. Another passenger said he paid a smuggler to help him cross the border and his family arranged to pay $16,000 for his transport to Philadelphia. The other passenger was going to pay $6,000 to get to New York City.
Flores-Meraz said he didn’t know the passengers were illegal immigrants.
According to an arrest report, an officer was conducting stationary traffic enforcement on west Marland in southwest Hobbs, when he saw Flores-Meraz drive by in a vehicle with a temporary paper license plate that was flipped up in the wind and was illegible.
Flores-Meraz gripped the steering wheel tightly after he drove past the officer and watched for the officer in his rearview mirror, the report said.
The officer followed Flores-Meraz and noticed a brake light was out when the vehicle stopped at a stoplight.
The officer reported Flores-Meraz was visibly nervous when the officer approached his driver-side door. His heartbeat was pulsing in the neckline of his shirt, the officer reporter. Allegedly, Flores-Meraz avoided eye contact.
The officer noticed energy drink cans, fast food wrappers and four different cellphones inside the vehicle. Missael’s name was not on the receipt of insurance and two passengers weren’t wearing seat belts.
A second officer who was fluent in Spanish questioned each passenger individually about where they were coming from, where they were going and their relationship to Missael, according to an arrest report.
Officers conducted a canine search of the vehicle and the dog alerted to the odor of illegal drugs. The officer then searched the vehicle with Missael’s consent and found a folded dollar bill with a white powdery substance, which was tested and determined to be cocaine.
Reportedly, the panels, sections and wiring of the vehicle had been tampered with. The officer had the vehicle towed to the Hobbs Police Department to execute a search warrant and determine if there was more contraband inside the vehicle. Dunlap said the search is still in the process.
Sara MacNeil can be reached at reporter@ hobbsnews.com .