Elderly Woman Imprisoned as Leader of People Smuggling Ring

PHOTO: The home of Felicitas Gurrola de Mason is seen on Nov. 30, 2011, in Chula Vista, Calif. Gurrola, 84, will be sentenced after she pleaded guilty to charges that she directed a smuggling organization.PlayGregory Bull/AP Photo
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An 85-year-old ring leader of an extensive migrant smuggling operation in southern California has been sentenced to 30 months in prison.

U.S. Attorneys in San Diego said Thursday that Felicitas Gurrola de Mason, of Chula Vista, was the leader of a smuggling ring that brought hundreds of illegal immigrants into the US using fake documents.

Daniel Zipp, one of the US attorney who investigated the case, said that Gurrola, aka "Dona Fey," had been indicted in 1982 for the same crime, but escaped arrest. Authorities believed that she escaped to Mexico, but later re-entered the U.S. and began the smuggling operation again.

Gurrola's daughter, Hilda, and nine other defendents were also involved in the ring, according to the indictment. The group would charge foreigners $3,500 for the border crossing, which included putting individuals up in hotels, choosing from a library of fake visas, foreign identification documents, and U.S. identification documents, the use of wigs and makeup artists, and transportation to a city north of the border to collect payment.

"It was a pretty effective way of getting people across the border," Zipp said.

Immigration agents received a tip about Gurrola's ring and then proceeded to wire tap her phones before planting an undercover agent among a group of migrants trying to cross the border, Zipp said.

In all, authorities identified at least 100 border crossings that Gurrola organized, bringing in more than $350,000.

Gurrola and her daughter pleaded guilty to 13 charges, including bringing in illegal aliens for financial gain, fraud and misuse of visas, permits, and other documents, aggravated identity theft, and aiding and abetting. They were both sentenced to 30 months in federal prison, in addition to paying the government $20,000 and turning over their cars and Hilda Gurrola's home in Chula Vista, Zipp said.

One other defendant pleaded to 37 months in prison, and the remaining defendants all plead to lesser charges, Zipp said. Many of the defendants were relatives of Gurrola.

Gurrola has been in custody since her arrest.