A former elevator mechanic working at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) has been sentenced to three years in federal prison for smuggling foreign nationals into the United States by bypassing established security at the airport.

Roberto Amaya Canchola, 54, was sentenced February 23rd as part of a plea agreement in which he admitted to earning $1,800 for each illegal alien he ushered into airport elevators and escorted to taxis outside the terminal, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials said.

Canchola was arrested at LAX in August after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents observed him using special access security keys to smuggle four aliens off of an arriving Mexicana Airlines flight and through the airport. Canchola escorted the aliens through a series of restricted access elevators and corridors, allowing them to avoid inspection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers, ICE officials said. After guiding the passengers through the airport, he led them to an awaiting taxi outside.

The case investigation began in late July, when customs officers discovered a discrepancy in the number of passengers from a Mexicana flight clearing the airport’s federal inspection area. The four passengers presented false alien registration numbers or Mexican passports without valid visas when boarding the flight in Mexico, ICE officials said. A review of LAX surveillance video identified Canchola meeting the four passengers arriving from the flight and guiding them through the federal inspection area.

Canchola’s badge was confiscated the day of his arrest and deactivated by the Airport Police. Prior to his arrest, Canchola had been employed for 23 years by the City of Los Angeles, including 19 years with Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that operates LAX.

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