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3 immigrants held for ransom rescued by police;
Smuggling ring in California is broken up with the arrest of four, authorities sayJOHN MCDONALD, AMY TAXIN, Orange County Register
ORANGE, CALIF.


ORANGE, CALIF. - What police described as a major immigrant-smuggling ring was broken up by Santa Ana, Calif., police officers, who rescued three immigrants held for ransom and arrested four people, authorities said.

Officials said the case began about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday when the brother of one of the immigrants called police to report the three were being held for ransom and he feared for their safety, Sgt. Lorenzo Carrillo said. The immigrants were a 25-year-old man, a 25-year-old woman and a 16-year-old girl. Their names were withheld by police.

"There was nothing specific said, but there were implications like `If we don't get the money I don't know how I'll control these guys. They're looking at the 16-year-old, and I don't know what I can do,' " Carrillo said Friday.

The trio had paid $5,000 to be smuggled into the United States from Mexico. They climbed under a fence near Tijuana and were led to a waiting van, police said.

Carrillo said investigators feared the girl would be harmed, so the Santa Ana Police Department helped the man obtain money to pay the $5,400 ransom. A meeting site was set near a freeway in Santa Ana, and the department's SWAT team staked out the site.

The suspects fled after the money was exchanged Wednesday night, but they were caught. Most of the money was recovered, and the victims were unharmed.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement determined that the trio had been held at a home in Orange. The immigrants told officials that 23 other smuggled people had been at the house and 20 more were expected that afternoon.

ICE agents staked out the house but found no other smuggled immigrants. A search of the house yielded $26,000.

The four people arrested were identified as Erika Olivas, 30, of Orange; José Mandujano, 35, of Orange; Christian Lopez, 19, of Santa Ana; and Diego Elenes, 22, of Orange. They were being held at the Santa Ana City Jail on suspicion of extortion and kidnapping in lieu of $1 million bail each.

ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said the agency is considering pursuing federal charges of human smuggling.
 
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