A Mexicali , Baja California , Mexico man has been charged with coordinating the March 2 , 2021 smuggling event that led to the death of 13 Mexican and Guatemalan nationals,

Jose Cruz Noriega appeared in federal court in El Centro Tuesday before U. S. Magistrate Judge Ruth Bermudez Montenegro. Cruz was arrested Monday night when he crossed into the U. S. at the Calexico Port of Entry. He is charged with Conspiracy to Bring Aliens to the United States Outside a Port of Entry Causing Bodily Injury / Placing a Life in Jeopardy , and Bringing in Aliens Without Presentation for Financial Gain. Cruz will remain in custody with a detention hearing scheduled for Monday , April 5 , 2021.

Cruz came to the attention of law enforcement when he was identified by another suspected smuggler who claimed to be an associate of Cruz. The associate was arrested March 15 n 2021 at the Campo Border Patrol Station for an unrelated smuggling event. He told investigators that Cruz had offered him $1,000 per passenger to drive the ill-fated SUV but he declined.

the Ford Expedition involved in the fatal crash had the seats removed so that 24 passengers were crammed into the vehicle along with the driver. Thirteen people died in the crash that occurred early in the morning on a rural highway near Holtville.