Thirty-two employees of a Los Angeles-based bus company called Golden State Transportation have been indicted on charges of transporting thousands of illegal immigrants already in the United States to destinations across the country.
Francisco Gonzalez, the founder and vice president of Golden State Transportation, was among the people arrested in raids conducted the weekend of Dec. 8 to 9 in Los Angeles, Fresno, Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Albuquerque, Las Vegas and Denver.
Federal authorities said the 39-count indictment culminated a two-year investigation dubbed Operation Great Basin. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said the multi-agency investigation was led by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Approximately 300 agents and officers from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service, assisted in the investigation.
Ashcroft said Golden State conspired with smugglers to move tens of thousands of illegal immigrants who had already crossed into the United States around the country. He said indictments were lodged against company officials and terminal managers as well as bus drivers.
According to the 35-page indictment, Golden State was transporting 50 to 300 immigrants every day, helping to generate a substantial amount of its annual revenue. Government officials were trying to freeze the company’s assets, which reportedly include 160 buses and terminals in Los Angeles, El Paso, Tucson and Las Vegas.
“The indictment describes how Golden State routinely permitted migrant smugglers to purchase large blocks of tickets in advance, scheduled bus departures and arrivals late at night and modified routes to prevent detection by law enforcement officials,” Ashcroft said during a press conference to announce the indictment.
Jim Ziglar, INS commissioner, said the investigation was triggered two years ago when Border Patrol agents in Tucson uncovered information about the bus operation. “This is the largest human-smuggling case involving a commercial enterprise in the history of the INS,” he said.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Gonzalez started the company in the early 1970s with a single Chevrolet Suburban and capitalized on the growing Latino market to build the enterprise into a $1 million-plus business.
Golden State’s majority owner, Sistema Internacional de Transporte de Autobuses, has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Greyhound Lines Inc. since 1995.
Lynn Brown, a Greyhound spokeswoman, said the Dallas-based company had no knowledge of Golden State’s day-to-day operations. “It operates as a stand-alone company with its own management and its own board of directors,” she said. News of the indictments “came as a complete surprise,” she added.
Two days after the indictments were handed down, Golden State was still in operation, according to an employee who declined to identify himself. “We’re still running the buses; that’s all I can tell you,” he said.
Through its attorney, Miles Kavaller, Golden State denied the charges.