“It is becoming a common occurrence for Panga boats suspected of human or drug trafficking to try to come ashore along our coastline,” said California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) President Alan Barcelona. “Often State Parks rangers are the first ones to encounter the situation and begin rescue or enforcement operations.”
LOS ANGELES – On December 20, 2022, a federal jury found two Mexican men guilty of drug and alien trafficking charges after law enforcement officers caught them on a panga boat containing 45 pounds of methamphetamine and 11 undocumented non-citizens from Mexico on a Santa Barbara County beach.
Jorge Muñoz-Muñoz, 26, of Ensenada, Mexico, and Roel Aranzubia-Álvarez, 43, of Sinaloa, Mexico, were found guilty of one count of conspiracy to bring non-citizens into the United States, 11 counts of alien smuggling, 11 counts of alien smuggling for private financial gain, and one count of aiding and assisting an alien convicted of an aggravated felony to enter the United States.
Muñoz-Muñoz also was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, one count of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, one count of conspiracy to import methamphetamine, and one count of importation of methamphetamine. Aranzubia-Álvarez was found not guilty of the drug-related charges.
According to evidence presented at their five-day trial, on the morning of September 27, 2021, law enforcement officers sighted a panga boat adrift off the coast of Santa Barbara County. The vessel, which was having engine trouble, ultimately made landfall at Arroyo Quemada Beach, approximately 25 miles west of Santa Barbara.
The investigation in this matter revealed that there were 15 people on the boat, including several crewmembers, and that Aranzubia-Álvarez was the boat’s captain. Two black bags that contained a total of 40 vacuum-sealed and plastic wrapped bindles, totaling approximately 45 pounds, were thrown off the boat by passengers at Muñoz-Muñoz’s direction and later were recovered by law enforcement.
Law enforcement also later confirmed that all occupants of the boat were undocumented non-citizens. Based on interviews with the passengers, it was determined that the passengers arrived at a beach in Ensenada, Mexico to board a panga that would smuggle them into the United States for a price of approximately $15,000 each.
Both defendants have been in federal custody since their arrest in September 2021.
Muñoz-Muñoz will face a statutory maximum sentence of life in federal prison, and Aranzubia-Álvarez will face a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.
Homeland Security Investigations investigated this matter. United States Customs and Border Protection, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, and the California Department of Parks and Recreation provided substantial assistance.