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Woman, 85, Jailed as Smuggling Leader

Kevin Horan/Getty Images(SAN DIEGO) -- An 85-year-old ringleader of an extensive migrant smuggling operation in southern California has been sentenced to 30 months in prison.

U.S. Attorneys in San Diego said Thursday that Felicitas Gurrola de Mason, of Chula Vista, was the leader of a smuggling ring that brought hundreds of illegal immigrants into the U.S. using fake documents.

Daniel Zipp, one of the U.S. attorneys who investigated the case, said that Gurrola, a.k.a. "Dona Fey," had been indicted in 1982 for the same crime, but escaped arrest. Authorities believed that she escaped to Mexico, but later re-entered the U.S. and began the smuggling operation again.

Gurrola's daughter, Hilda, and nine other defendants were also involved in the ring, according to the indictment. The group would charge foreigners $3,500 for the border crossing, which included putting individuals up in hotels, choosing from a library of fake visas, foreign identification documents, and U.S. identification documents, access to wigs and makeup artists to shape disguises, and transportation to a city north of the border to collect payment.

Immigration agents received a tip about Gurrola's ring and then proceeded to tap her phones before planting an undercover agent among a group of migrants trying to cross the border, Zipp said.

In all, authorities identified at least 100 border crossings that Gurrola organized, bringing in more than $350,000.

Gurrola and her daughter pleaded guilty to 13 charges, including bringing in illegal aliens for financial gain, fraud and misuse of visas, permits, and other documents, aggravated identity theft, and aiding and abetting. They were both sentenced to 30 months in federal prison, in addition to paying the government $20,000 and turning over their cars and Hilda Gurrola's home in Chula Vista, Zipp said.

Gurrola has been in custody since her arrest.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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