By JEANNIE NUSS | AP
Spanish authorities have arrested 29 people suspected of forging credit cards to finance an elaborate scheme to smuggle Cubans into the U.S. from Mexico.
The organization hacked credit card data to steal more than $530,000 from customers at restaurants and bars around Spain, a police statement said.
The network allegedly used the funds and help from a Spanish non-governmental organization to forge passports and travel documents and move Cubans along a convoluted route that included stops in Nicaragua, Spain and Mexico.
Spanish police said they did not immediately know how many Cubans actually made it to Mexico or across the border into the U.S.
Police said the group brought Cubans to Nicaragua to work in companies serving as fronts for the smuggling gang.
In Nicaragua, the group got help from a senior official of a Spanish NGO, police said.
From that Central American country, Cubans were eventually brought to Spain with fake papers stating they had jobs waiting for them, then given forged passports to travel to Mexico. There, members of the smuggling ring would aid them in sneaking across the U.S. border, the police statement said.
A Spanish NGO called Infancia sin Fronteras (Childhood without Borders) said one of its employees was involved in the scheme. It insisted the NGO itself had nothing to do with the alleged smuggling operation.
Spanish police said they launched their investigation in August and arrested the 29 suspects in late April in Madrid and Barcelona. Most are Cubans, and the rest are Spanish, Dominican, Nicaraguan, Colombian or Costa Rican.