A criminal enterprise based in Guatemala and Southern California is becoming one of the principal organizations in the human-smuggling trade.
The cabal appears to be linked to almost every smuggling boat that has arrived on the Pacific coast this year.
In an investigation, the San Francisco Chronicle found that the cabal was continuing to bring in thousands of people on the treacherous journeys from China's Fujian province in defiance of anti-smuggling efforts President Bill Clinton announced early last year.
The syndicate, dominated by Taiwanese, is suspected of paying thousands of dollars in bribes to government officials who aid its operations in Guatemala and other Central American countries, according to federal agents.
In Southern California, the cabal has aligned with the Fuk Ching, a gang linked to the beatings and torture of dozens of smuggled immigrants who have been unable to pay their smuggling fees.
Of the handful of Taiwanese who control the enterprise, at least one is believed to live in Southern California. At the next level are about 50 Taiwanese - some in Guatemala, some in the United States - who run individual smuggling missions.
They are assisted by hundreds of free-lancers worldwide who perform tasks that range from leasing ships to recruiting passengers and forging travel documents.
An Immigration and Naturalization Service official in Los Angeles said, "We're saying (this syndicate) is responsible for about 80 to 90 percent of the smuggling in the western part of the United States."
A profile of the group, pieced together from State Department cables and interviews with U.S. investigators, offers the clear picture of how the brutally efficient human-smuggling industry operates.
Among its most notorious operations were the Pai Sheng, a ship that steamed into San Francisco Bay with about 300 passengers in May, and the Golden Venture, which ran aground off New York in June. Ten people drowned trying to swim to shore.
Since July, when the United States intercepted three smuggling ships off Mexico, there has been a lull in boat smuggling incidents on the West Coast. But in interviews in China's Fujian province this fall, villagers told how their relatives had been smuggled directly into California and New York in late summer without being caught. …