A high school senior in Southern California was charged in federal court last week with recruiting his fellow classmates to smuggle drugs from Mexico to the United States, which federal officials say is part of a larger problem affecting the region.
Phillip Junior Webb, 18, was charged Monday with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and smuggling foreign nationals for financial gain, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
"I can assure you Phillip Webb is not the only high school student recruiting other high school students," Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Walker-Hobson told Fox 5 San Diego.
Webb is accused of recruiting several high school students to smuggle methamphetamine and fentanyl into the U.S. on "multiple occasions" by having the minors strap the drugs onto their bodies as they attempted to enter the U.S. at the San Ysidro or Otay Mesa ports of entry, according to the criminal complaint.
The 18-year-old was caught on May 4 attempting to bring in a Chinese national and Mexican national into the U.S. in the trunk of his vehicle, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
In an unrelated criminal complaint, 27-year-old Alejandro Barba from San Diego was also charged Monday with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine after agents spotted a juvenile enter his car parked at San Ysidro High School, removed items from his backpack and get out.
Agents who later stopped Barba on May 1 found 5 kilograms of methamphetamine in his backseat, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Barba is accused of recruiting the high school student to smuggle the meth across the U.S. border from Mexico earlier that day.
Walker-Hobson told Fox 5 that authorities are seeing more students recruited by drug cartels at schools in San Diego County, primarily in the South Bay.
"I had a case where a defendant went to Mexico and got less than 2 grams of fentanyl and it led to five overdoses in Alpine," she said.
Six students were arrested for smuggling in March, including one student said he did it at least 20 times, according to Walker-Hobson.
"The money is out there for these kids, so it's up to the community to go in and educate these kids so they don't do this," she told Fox 5. "It's not worth your freedom and your liberty. Your parents are going to be very unhappy with you for bringing drugs into the U.S. for $400."