• Padilla is facing human smuggling, fentanyl distribution and being a felon in possession of a gun charges.



Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal



Federal agents targeting a smuggling operation with possible cartel ties found 29 migrants, drugs and a gun at a property late last month on Albuquerque’s West Side.

Court records show that a confidential informant told Homeland Security Investigations agents the operation was run by La Linea – a faction of the Juarez Cartel.

Edwin Padilla booking photo from 2020 (MDC)

Agents arrested at least one man, 34-year-old Edwin Efrain Padilla of Albuquerque, in the Sept. 27 raid after allegedly finding him in a car outside the property with a gun and fentanyl.

Padilla is facing human smuggling, fentanyl distribution and being a felon in possession of a gun charges. Padilla’s attorney declined to comment on Tuesday.

Along with detaining 29 migrants, federal authorities seized drugs, a 9mm pistol, ledgers and Mexican IDs and birth certificates, among other items.

In July 2021, according to the criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court, Padilla was suspected by federal authorities in Las Cruces of smuggling a dozen Guatemalan nationals into the country.

No charges could be found in that case.

Padilla’s criminal history includes arrests on stolen vehicle, drug possession and gun charges, according to court records. Padilla was involved in a 2017 traffic stop where an Albuquerque police officer’s gun went off accidentally, not striking anyone, and led to an internal investigation.

Agents were tipped off in August by a confidential informant to the alleged stash house on 90th just south of Bridge, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in U.S. District Court. The informant told agents the house was used by La Linea to smuggle migrants and large quantities of drugs.

Agents said the informant told them about seeing up to 40 Guatemalan and Mexican people inside the home, and two of them “appeared to be very ill” and “were unable to care for themselves.” The informant said the migrants were brought from El Paso, Arizona and southern New Mexico and referred to as “pollos” by the smugglers.

The informant told agents the migrants had to pay a fee through Western Union and had no medical access and were given the “bare minimum” of food and water, according to the affidavit. The informant said migrants would “occasionally” bring methamphetamine into the country and one smuggler carried a “ghost gun” and rotated vehicles.

Agents surveilled the property, which had its windows covered, and saw a caravan of vehicles, some with fake license plates, drop off people multiple times. Agents said the men running the operation were often armed and, at one point, noticed federal authorities watching them.

Authorities also saw more than a dozen people with bags or backpacks eating from paper plates at a gazebo on the property, according to the affidavit. The group threw away trash in an “orderly file line” and “did not appear to be speaking to each other or socializing.”

Agents say that on the day of the raid they found Padilla in a Cadillac on the property with a gun under his seat and a large bag of fentanyl pills in the cup holder. A man and woman were detained nearby with $500 in cash, believed by agents to be for the bag of fentanyl.

The 29 people found inside the home told agents they were in the country illegally, according to court records. Two other people living at the house told agents Padilla had tried to get them to help transport migrants and habitually used meth and fentanyl.