RIVERSIDE — The smuggler who led authorities on the 80-mile chase that ended in the televised baton beating of two illegal immigrants by sheriff's deputies has been caught--after trying to sneak north with another load of undocumented people, authorities said Monday.
The suspect, identified as Fidel Delgado-Pimental, was arrested Friday in the southwestern Riverside County community of Winchester after a tip to immigration authorities led to surveillance of the area, said U.S. Atty. Nora Manella in Los Angeles.
When he was caught, Delgado-Pimental was trying to smuggle 18 illegal immigrants, Manella said.
Delgado-Pimental has used nine aliases and was arrested three times before on suspicion of alien smuggling--in 1986, 1987 and 1991, according to federal affidavits filed in connection with his arrest.
He was charged Monday with two counts of illegal transportation of aliens--for Friday's incident in Winchester and the April 1 incident that ended alongside the Pomona Freeway in South El Monte.
In that incident, Riverside County sheriff's deputies Tracy Watson and Kurt Franklin were videotaped by television news crews beating two of the passengers with their batons after the other occupants--and the smuggler--fled the vehicle.
Delgado-Pimental has since admitted to an INS anti-smuggling agent that he was the driver of the vehicle, that he refused to stop his pickup while being chased and that he evaded apprehension by running across the freeway and hiding until he hitchhiked a ride to Los Angeles, according to court affidavits. He said he was supposed to be paid $50 for each person he delivered to Los Angeles.
Manella said Monday she was not surprised that the smuggler is a repeat offender--and that he returned with another load of illegal immigrants after the highly publicized April 1 incident. She cited his arrest as an argument for stiffer penalties against smugglers.
She noted that Congress has called for more serious sentences--but that those new guidelines have not yet been imposed by authorities.
Authorities were tipped by an anonymous caller that Delgado-Pimental was the smuggler connected with the April 1 incident, Manella said. The tipster said Delgado-Pimental was supposed to drive another load of illegal immigrants north late last week in a 1971 pickup.
INS agents, along with sheriff's deputies from Riverside and Los Angeles counties, staked out various back-road detours around the Interstate 15 immigration checkpoint near Temecula on Thursday, but didn't see him.
Early Friday morning, agents spotted his vehicle "in bad condition and swerving from left to right," driving toward Winchester with what appeared to be a heavy load, INS Agent Larry Rios wrote in his affidavit.
Agents and deputies arrested him when he stopped at a gas station at Winchester. Six people were in the cab of the pickup and 12 were in the back, partly covered by blankets and a tarp, Rios said.
Several people in the truck told agents that they agreed to pay $300 each to Delgado-Pimental to be smuggled north.