Protesters outside the downtown Los Angeles federal building form a protective ring around Claudia Rueda, the daughter of Teresa Vidal-Jaime, who was detained during a drug raid Monday and faces likely deportation. (Richard Winton / Los Angeles Times)
Two men accused of smuggling more than 30 pounds of cocaine across the U.S.-Mexico border before being arrested in Boyle Heights this week face deportation because they have been living in the country illegally, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection official said Wednesday.
Hugo Rueda, 50, was taken into custody after the drug raid on Monday, according to the U.S. Border Patrol. During the bust, authorities found 33 pounds of cocaine in Rueda’s car, as well as $600,000 in cash and an ounce of crystal methamphetamine in the apartment he shared with his wife in Boyle Heights, federal authorities said.
Rueda and three other men — identified as Enrique Rueda, 47; Erasmo Pimentel, 28; and Jose Gutierrez, 46 — were arrested on suspicion of possessing drugs for the purpose of selling them, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Hugo Rueda and one of the other men entered the country illegally, said Mark Endicott, supervisory border patrol agent for the agency in San Diego. He refused to identify which of the other men had crossed illegally, citing privacy laws.
“It is possible that the Border Patrol may actively seek to initiate removal proceedings for these individuals after their criminal cases are adjudicated and they are eligible for release,” he said.
Rueda’s wife, Teresa Vidal-Jaime, 54, was also taken into custody at the scene and arrested by Border Patrol agents for an immigration violation, Endicott said. Although officials said she was not involved in the narcotics investigation, border officials said she was also in the country illegally and now faces possible deportation.
Vidal-Jaime’s detention triggered a protest in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday. As demonstrators chanted “Free Teresa,” others blocked vehicles and stopped traffic outside federal buildings downtown while forming a human barrier around Rueda and Vidal-Jaime’s daughter, Clauda Rueda.
“Her mother didn’t have anything to do with this,” said Marcela Hernandez, one of the protest organizers. Vidal-Jaime “didn’t know anything about anything in the apartment. She let them [agents] in.”
The operation that led to the cocaine bust began about 5 p.m. Monday when the Border Patrol alerted sheriff’s narcotics investigators about a Chevrolet Malibu that was believed to be involved in cross-border drug smuggling activity, according to the Sheriff’s Department. The Chevrolet, they said, was headed to the Los Angeles area.
Sheriff’s Capt. Darren Harris said Border Patrol agents and undercover sheriff’s detectives who are part of multijurisdictional methamphetamine task force began tracking the vehicle.
When the car arrived at the apartment complex in the 700 block of Bernal Avenue, investigators saw several men offloading what appeared to be drugs from the vehicle, the Sheriff’s Department said.
Border Patrol agents and sheriff’s investigators moved in and arrested four men. Investigators found the cocaine inside the car, which they said was registered to Rueda. They also discovered cash hidden inside a tire, sheriff’s officials said.
"These are high-risk takedowns with lives at risk. This can be the cartel," Harris said. "This case involves nearly a million dollars in drugs and cash."
Harris said the cocaine has a street value of $300,000.
According to the Border Patrol, Vidal-Jaime gave investigators consent “to conduct a further search of the apartment.” Inside the apartment, authorities discovered the bundles of cash and meth, authorities said.
"This is a high-risk search, so anyone at the apartment would be detained by the task force for safety purposes," said Harris, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman.
Nicole Nishida, a Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman, said Vidal-Jaime was detained at the scene but freed after investigators concluded “she was not involved in the … narcotics investigation.”
“She was released from our detention and free to leave,” Nishida said.
Vidal-Jaime was then immediately taken into custody by Border Patrol agents, who had determined that she was in the country illegally, said Endicott, an agency spokesman.
Sheriff’s officials said deputies do not enforce immigration law and do not ask anyone about their immigration status.
Vidal-Jaime came to the U.S. in 2001 and was being held in Chula Vista for deportation proceedings, her daughter said.