A volunteer pilot with the sheriff’s Air Squadron is among four defendants who face federal charges in connection with the alleged transporting of undocumented immigrants, officials said Thursday.
Philip Kubeck, a 52-year-old Calexico resident, was arraigned this week along with two other co-defendants in El Centro federal court following their arrest Saturday for allegedly trying to smuggle a group of six immigrants who were here illegally at the Imperial County Airport.
Kubeck is suspected of getting paid $10,500 for a flight to Salinas with undocumented immigrants on board that day, court records read.
A fourth defendant who was also arrested in a separate incident at the airport that same day was 38-year-old Lionel Ramirez, who Border Patrol authorities believe is a pilot tied to the attempted smuggling of more undocumented immigrants.
Kubeck, who Imperial County Undersheriff Fred Miramontes said was with the squadron since 2005, posted bail. He and co-defendants Antonio Alvarez-Naja and Claudia Rivas-Heras, two Mexican nationals who have not posted bail, faces charges of illegally transporting aliens, harboring illegal aliens and aiding and abetting, according to the criminal complaint.
Ramirez, whose city of residence was not immediately known, is charged with allegedly transporting aliens and has posted bail.
The next court appearance for all four defendants is Thursday.
On July 15, Border Patrol authorities saw a vehicle later determined to be registered to Kubeck leave a suspected stash house and head to the county airport, according to the complaint.
Six people exited Kubeck’s vehicle and ran toward an airplane they boarded before it quickly went airborne. Kubeck not only piloted the aircraft but “is the most frequent pilot of the airplane,” the complaint read.
Border Patrol agents conducting surveillance at the county airport last weekend spotted a group of four people “hastily” walk toward an airplane followed by two others with Kubeck opening the pedestrian gate for them, the court record reported.
“The six individuals and Kubeck entered the plane and Kubeck closed the door to the airplane,” the complaint read.
Material witnesses, identified as Antonia Manjarrez-Camacho, Arturo Sanchez-Ramirez and Salvador Garcia-Avalos — all of whom were here illegally — told authorities they were going to pay about $1,500 each to be flown to the Salinas Airport, the complaint read. It did not specify whether Kubeck was to a receive all, or a portion of, that money.
The court record did say Manjarrez and Sanchez have been passengers on flights Kubeck piloted in the past. In addition, Alvarez told authorities that he had been in contact with Kubeck and agreed to pay him $10,500 for the flight to Salinas.
“Alvarez stated this was the fourth time he has used a charter flight with the same pilot to circumvent U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints,” the court record reported. Alvarez identified Kubeck as the pilot in an alleged smuggling event of which authorities took a photo, according to the record.
Miramontes said this is the only time a volunteer pilot with the squadron was arrested in connection with flying undocumented immigrants. Kubeck is no longer a member of the volunteer air squadron, Miramontes said.
While he was careful to note that Kubeck’s alleged role in the smuggling case is the isolated act of “one individual,” Miramontes said Kubeck’s arrest has nothing to do with the squadron of 20 volunteers, most of whom are retired.
As the pilots are volunteers, “they are governed by themselves,” Miramontes said.
“This is the first time this has happened,” the undersheriff said of the squadron. “It doesn’t mean the group is bad.”
U.S. Border Patrol Agent Adrian Corona said that authorities “do see this as a threat” and are going to use whatever resources in keeping a watchful eye on airports in the Imperial Valley.
Corona declined to give too many specifics about the investigation, but said surveillance of the airports has stepped up since 2010.
Anyone who knows of suspicious activity going on can call the Border Community Threat Hotline at 1-800-901-2003.
Staff Writer Silvio J. Panta can be reached at 760-337-3442 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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