On Dec. 3, Grand County Sheriff Deputy Jamison Wiggins pulled over a van with “extremely dark window tint” near milepost 128 as the vehicle headed north on Highway 191. As he spoke with the driver and front-seat passenger, Wiggins noticed a large number of passengers in the back of the vehicle and began to suspect human smuggling; after further investigation, Wiggins arrested the driver, Mauricio Tellez, and front passenger, Abel Alvarez, for aggravated human smuggling and aggravated kidnapping, respectively.
Wiggins began by measuring the window tint with a meter and getting a reading of 15%; under Utah law front side windows can allow no less than 43% visible light transmission. In his statement of probable cause, Wiggins said he noticed the back seat passengers and asked for the rear windows to be rolled down; seeing people sharing seats and some lying on the floor of the vehicle, he became suspicious and separated Tellez from the group for further questioning. According to Wiggins’s statement, Tellez “admitted to being paid $650 to travel down and get people and bring them back.”’
Wiggins asked all passengers to exit the vehicle, and determined from interviews with them they were all from other countries and had paid a fee to be transported to destinations “all over the United States.” At least one was determined to be a minor, at 15 years old.
The affidavit says there were 12 passengers; however, Utah Attorney General’s Office spokesperson Richard Piatt told the Moab Sun News in an email that that was a miscount, and there were actually 11. The Asian Association of Utah and the Mexican Consulate have offered to help those individuals obtain food and housing.
Aggravated human smuggling and aggravated kidnapping are both first degree felonies. Piatt said those are initial charges; a new set of charges may be filed as soon as the end of the week. Federal immigration is involved in the task force handling the case, Piatt said.
According to the Homeland Security Investigations, the investigative branch of the Department of Homeland Security, “Human trafficking victims have been found in communities nationwide.” Human trafficking and human smuggling are different crimes. According to a document from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement:
Human trafficking involves exploiting men, women, or children for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation. Human smuggling involves the provision of a service—typically, transportation or fraudulent documents—to an individual who voluntarily seeks to gain illegal entry into a foreign country. It is possible the crime may start out as human smuggling but quickly turn into human trafficking.
According to the HSI website, in 2019 the agency “initiated 1,024 investigations with a nexus to human trafficking and recorded 2,197 arrests, 1,113 indictments, and 691 convictions; 428 victims were identified and assisted.”
Both Alvarez and Tellez are from Mexico, according to the affidavit of probable cause.