Man pleads guilty to human smuggling

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: A man who agreed to serve as a translator during a human smuggling operation has pleaded guilty and is looking at receiving a probation sentence.

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – A man who pleaded guilty to taking part in human smuggling is looking at a probation sentence, although additional jail time is still a possibility. 

On Tuesday, Santiago Jace Lucero, 41, appeared in front of Graham County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Travis W. Ragland and pleaded guilty to two counts of smuggling humans for profit. The plea dismisses four other smuggling counts.   

Lucero was apprehended on May 2 after being in a vehicle that was transporting undocumented immigrants. According to a factual basis of the crime provided to the court by Graham County Chief Deputy County Attorney C. Allan Perkins, Lucero was a front-seat passenger in the vehicle and had been hired by the driver to help him communicate with the undocumented immigrants he was transporting. When followed by law enforcement, the driver parked the vehicle at a local motel and both he and Lucero fled on foot. However, both were later apprehended.   

According to the plea, Lucero will receive a stipulated sentence of probation on counts 1 and 2 with the length to be determined by the court. All other terms of sentencing will also be at the court’s discretion, which could include up to one year in jail.  

Lucero told the judge he is currently on parole, and online court records show he was on probation out of Pinal County for possession of a dangerous drug. His guilty conviction in Graham County could result in a revocation of his current probation/parole status. 

While Judge Palmer acknowledged Lucero pleaded guilty to the charges, he deferred accepting the plea until after viewing a pre-sentence report. Judge Palmer then set sentencing for July 25 at 8:30 a.m.