Babeu to feds: 'Build the dang fence'

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
Cesar Beltran-Munoz By Catherine Holland Cesar Beltran-Munoz By Catherine Holland
Jose Renteria By Catherine Holland Jose Renteria By Catherine Holland
Chrisitan Lopez-Montiel By Catherine Holland Chrisitan Lopez-Montiel By Catherine Holland

PINAL COUNTY, Ariz. -- Three separate vehicle pursuits tied to drug and human smuggling in three days has Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu imploring the federal government to "build the dang fence" along Arizona's border with Mexico.

The first incident happened shortly before 6 a.m. Thursday. After witnessing several traffic violations, a deputy tried to stop an F-150 pickup truck heading west on Interstate 10 near Eloy.

The driver refused to stop, hitting nearly 100 mph as he fled. According to PCSO spokesman Tim Gaffney, the driver slowed down and drove off the road, through a fence and into an open desert area.

When the truck stopped, a dozen Hispanic men scattered into the desert. Three more were found hiding under a tarp in the truck's bed. Those men were handed over to the U.S. Border Patrol. The other 12 men were not found.

A little more than 24 hours later, another traffic stop led to the discovery of two bundles of marijuana.

The driver, Cesar Beltran-Munoz, 29, and his passenger, Jose Antone Renteria, 20, were taken into custody. Both men are from Mexico and admitted to being in the country illegally, according to Gaffney.

"Jose told deputies he has been deported several times in the past and he has prior arrests for smuggling marijuana," Gaffney said in a news release.

The third incident happened Sunday night. This one also started with a traffic stop.

The driver of a 2001 Mazda Tribute stopped along eastbound I-10 when a K-9 deputy pulled him over. As the deputy reached through the car window to get the passenger's ID, the driver hit the gas.

"The deputy was nearly run over by the vehicle as it accelerated away," Gaffney said.

A chase ensued. The suspect drove off the roadway, through a fence and into the desert where both he and his passenger bailed and tried to run.

The driver, Christian Lopez-Montiel, was found hiding in the tree line. A small plastic bag of marijuana was found in his truck.

"Christian is currently on probation for human smuggling and he admitted he was in the United States illegally," Gaffney said.

Babeu said these kinds of incidents happen virtually every day in Pinal County and other border locations.

In an unrelated incident, federal investigators seized more than 10 tons (20,000 pounds) of marijuana at the Mariposa port of entry on the outskirts of Nogales. The drugs are valued at more than $10 million.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, the seizure surpasses the previous record seizure in Arizona of 14,121 pounds, or slightly over 7 tons, of marijuana on Jan. 15.

"A lot of people see this issue as just about illegal immigration, but this is clearly a public safety issue," Babeu told 3TV's Kaley O'Kelley Tuesday morning. "This underscores the fact that the border is not secure."

Babeu talked about Washington's promises of security that have not materialized.

"Instead of rushing to give green cards and a path to citizenship for 11 to 20 million illegals, the Senate Gang of Eight should build the dang fence we were promised in Arizona," he said.

But it's not just about the fence.

"You have to have enforcement," Babeu said. "The most important part of securing our border is we need to enforce the laws. That's what we still are not doing today. … This is not about race, color, national origin. It's about our own security."

To Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain, Babeu said, "You made promises to the people of Arizona. Where's our dang fence? You should be promoting that first, securing our border …."