May 25, 2011— -- Three cops under the command of "America's toughest sheriff," including a deputy in the human smuggling unit, have been arrested in Arizona and charged with trafficking in humans and drugs.
Deputy Alfredo Navarrette and two female prison guards were arrested following a year-long sting that netted nine other people in a suspected criminal ring.
"Unfortunately we had a deputy and two officers that became involved in an international drug and illegal immigration operation," Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the controversial head of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, told ABCNews.com.
Arpaio bills himself as "America's toughest sheriff" for his no nonsense handling of inmates and for his zero tolerance of illegal immigrants.
Navarrette, 37, who was allegedly caught with two illegal immigrants and $200,000 worth of heroin in his home at the time of his arrest, is accused of feeding a drug ring confidential police information and also of operating a separate human smuggling ring.
One of the prison guards, Marcella Hernandez, is eight-months pregnant with the child of Francisco Arce-Torre, the heroin ring's alleged "kingpin" and a member of the Mexican Sinaloa cartel, said Arpaio.
Both Hernandez, 28, and Navarrette had received training and been certified by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
"America's Toughest Sheriff" Finds Three Deputies Allegedly Helping Smugglers
Navarrette had spent nearly a decade working in the human smuggling unit, a division close to the heart of Sheriff Arpaio, who has made capturing illegal immigrants a cornerstone of his administration.
Hernandez most recently worked at the county's largest jail, where she was in charge of the women's chain gang. She had previously worked at "Tent City," the controversial makeshift jail devised by Arpaio to hold illegal immigrants.
At the time of Hernandez's arrest, Arpaio said, she reporting for duty and was carrying $16,000 in her purse.
All three suspects, Navarrette, Hernandez and corrections officer Sylvia Najera were booked on felony trafficking charges.
Navarrette "talked at the time of his arrest," said Arpaio, and admitted that he delivered confidential information to the ring.
"This deputy was releasing information to the bad guys," Arpaio said, "which places my deputy sheriffs and volunteer posse in danger when enforcing illegal immigration and drug trafficking laws."
Arpaio said his office received a tip a year ago and initiated an investigation. In that time Navarrette was followed as he made several trips to California and delivered illegal immigrants and heroin.
Navarrette was arraigned in court Tuesday on charges that included human smuggling, money laundering, controlling an illegal enterprise and conspiracy, and is being held on $1 million cash bond.
Hernandez was charged with transporting drugs and money laundering and was ordered held on $2 million bond.
Najera was charged with money laundering and controlling a criminal enterprise, but bail was not immediately set.
None of the arrested officers have entered pleas or obtained legal counsel.