Federal prosecutors charged a 23-year-old El Centro man on Friday in connection with the deaths of three Chinese migrants whose bodies were discovered in 2019 in the trunk of an abandoned car in San Diego.

Saad Ali Awan has been charged with two counts relating to bringing undocumented immigrants across the border, including one charge of conspiracy carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment or death.

Authorities arrested Awan, who is also known as “Ryan”, on Thursday at his home in El Centro, according to federal prosecutors. He was arraigned in district court in the United States on Friday, but information about his lawyer was not immediately available.

Awan, who was previously convicted of aiding and abetting after the fact in a federal human trafficking case, is the second person charged in connection with the deaths of Xueying Lin, 38, Bangjie Li, 15, and 39 years old. Ying Lin, one year old.

The victims were found inside the trunk of a car on August 11, 2019, in the Bay Terraces neighborhood of San Diego. Police have located the victims – including a mother and son – after someone reported a foul odor and blood dripping from a 1999 BMW with Texas license plates parked on Jamie Avenue near Dorian Street.

In March, Neil Edwin Valera, 52, was sentenced to five years in federal prison for crossing the border with the BMW. Although Valera, an American citizen who lived in Tijuana at the time, admitted to smuggling the victims into the country, they were still alive when someone else took his car and human cargo, according to reports. court documents.

The criminal complaint unsealed on Friday offered no new information about what happened to the car and the victims inside its trunk after Valera abandoned it. But he explains how federal authorities believe Valera became involved in the smuggling program.

Prosecutors for the Southern District of California’s District Attorney’s Office allege that it was Awan who recruited Valera on Craigslist. According to a probable cause statement, Valera told investigators he responded to a Craigslist ad offering small amounts of money to drive people from Tecate, East County, to Los Angeles.

Later, Valera said he was first offered a payment of $ 500 to drive $ 15,000 in cash across the border, according to the probable cause statement. He then agreed to a deal that would pay him $ 6,000 to drive “an unknown number of Chinese women to the United States locked in the trunk.”

Investigators said Awan’s phone number and email address was linked to the Craigslist ad and that he was the first person to contact Valera, and one of two men who kept in touch. with him throughout the smuggling operation.

Using information obtained from Awan’s subpoenaed telephone records, Immigration and Customs Enforcement homeland security investigators believed that Away played a role in at least 14 incidents of human trafficking. human beings discovered by the authorities between July 2019 and July 2020.

“The smugglers do not act alone and we will continue to prosecute offenders who participate in all levels of the criminal organizations responsible for these dangerous crimes,” Interim US Attorney Randy Grossman said in a statement.

Awan was on federal probation while he allegedly coordinated these smuggling operations. According to court records, he was arrested in June 2018 while attempting to smuggle three undocumented migrants through the San Ysidro port of entry inside his trunk. He pleaded guilty in early 2019 to one count of after-the-fact aiding and abetting, and was placed on probation for a year.

Awan is due to return to court on Tuesday for a detention hearing.

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