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6 Chinese, Alleged Smuggler Detained

June 21, 2004|Eric Slater | Times Staff Writer

Six Chinese nationals found on board a private airplane were being held by federal officials on suspicion of entering the United States illegally, authorities said Sunday. In addition, at least one man suspected of helping smuggle them into the country was taken into federal custody.

El Monte police detained the Chinese citizens -- four women, a man and a girl -- Friday after the twin-engine airplane carrying them landed at the El Monte airport. The Chinese nationals, as well as four others on board, including the suspected smuggler, were turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Authorities did not say from where the plane took off or otherwise reveal the plane's route.

Acting on a tip from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, officers from the San Gabriel Valley city were waiting for the plane when it landed about 9:45 a.m. Friday, said El Monte Police Lt. Craig Sperry.

The officers were asked by federal immigration officials to hold the pilot and passengers until agents arrived from San Diego, Sperry said.

The pilot and the owner of the plane were held for a short time and then released, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lori Haley said. She said she knew of only one alleged smuggler being held. The status of the 10th person taken off the plane was not clear.

The Chinese nationals are "being talked to and processed, and they'll probably be held as material witnesses against the smuggler," Haley said.

Authorities did not identify any of those involved, including the two who were released.

The plane was a Cessna 310-H, registered to PWG Inc. and listed as being in the care of Keller Realty of Reno. Phone numbers for Keller Realty were disconnected, and the owner, James H. Keller, could not be reached Sunday night.

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