Suspects Held Without Bond in Baby-Selling Ring
SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Two women charged with selling an estimated 200 Mexican babies to U.S. couples for up to $10,000 each were ordered held without bail Thursday as authorities tracked down additional sales of infants.
The arrest of Juanita Vargas Espinosa, 52, and her daughter, Melina Leyva- Vargas, 28, both of San Ysidro, cracked a ring that sold babies to couples from California to New York in the last two years, immigration authorities said.
U.S. Magistrate Edward Infante ordered the women held without bond pending a detention hearing on Tuesday.
Records seized in the women’s apartment showed the recent sale of a baby to a Hudson, Ill., couple for $10,000, said Harold Ezell, an Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner for the western region.
The couple apparently had adopted three other children through the ring, which provided counterfeit birth certificates and adoption papers with the children at the time of sale, Ezell said.
The immigration officials said Wednesday they had traced sales of infants to the cities of Seattle, Portland, Ore., Springfield, Ill., Milwaukee and New York state, and on Thursday said they discovered babies sold to couples in California and Maryland.
The infants were taken from unwed mothers staying at an unlicensed halfway house operated by Mrs. Leyva-Vargas in Tijuana, Mexico, just across the border from San Ysidro, Ezell said.
U.S. authorities met Thursday with Mexican officials to ask their help in arresting two Mexican men allegedly involved with the ring, Ezell said. William Albert Bissell was arrested last month at his printing business in Arkansas on charges of preparing false documents used by the ring.
The Los Angeles Police Department asked immigration authorities for information about the ring because of a case in which a baby was offered for sale but then withheld and sold to another couple for a higher price.
″This thing is growing as far as our being able to prove they are into a number of more states than we originally thought,″ Ezell said.
None of the couples has been charged in the case, but Ezell said the INS is investigating an Illinois couple that adopted four children through the ring, most recently on Aug. 18. Ezell said the parents could be prosecuted if they knew the smuggling ring was the source of their adopted children.
″There is evidence that makes us concerned about the fourth child,″ he said. ″The parents wouldn’t admit it but we have a canceled check for $10,000.″