An unmanned plane helped border agents net a man wanted on child sex abuse charges in Washington state, federal officials said Thursday.
The aircraft was flying along the Arizona-Mexico border late Tuesday when it detected and tracked six suspected aliens, including Leopoldo Aparicio-Lopez, a Mexican national.
Prosecutors in Kent, Washington, issued warrants for Aparicio-Lopez, 25, last May on a charge of third-degree rape of a child, alleging that he had consensual sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend. Aparicio-Lopez was 23 at the time.
The sexual relations came to light when police were called to a home in Kent because of a verbal dispute between the 15-year-old, who had just learned she was pregnant, and her mother. The girl disclosed that she had been in a six-month relationship with Aparicio-Lopez, records say.
In Washington, third-degree rape of a child, once known as statutory rape, involves sex between a person under the age of 16 by a person who is at least four years older, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors issued a warrant for Aparicio-Lopez, but neither prosecutors nor Kent police could say Thursday if Aparicio-Lopez had been arrested, or if so, under what conditions he had been released.
Records show that prosecutors recommended bail be set at $25,000 and that Aparicio-Lopez be required to surrender his passport, saying that "it is reported that the defendant is planning to return to Mexico." Such recommendations, however, can precede a person's arrest, spokesman Dan Donohoe said.
Border Patrol arrested Aparicio-Lopez and the five other suspected aliens Tuesday, according to Michael Friel, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Aparicio-Lopez was identified during a routine computerized fingerprint check after he was apprehended, Friel said.
Five people were returned voluntarily to Mexico, and Aparicio-Lopez was turned over to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office, according to Border Patrol spokesman Chuy Rodriguez.
King County prosecutors said Aparicio-Lopez has waived extradition, and will be brought back to Washington.
The incident also resulted in the seizure of 395 pounds of marijuana, but, Rodriguez said, because the six people had merged with another group, authorities "couldn't tie the dope into that group."
CBP issued a statement quoting Commissioner W. Ralph Basham as saying, "The unmanned aircraft is an important tool among many that CBP applies to our border security efforts."
Unmanned aircraft have flown nearly 2,000 hours, directly contributing to more than 3,900 arrests and the seizure of approximately 13,660 pounds of marijuana, CBP said. But the systems are costly and authorities have had difficulties integrating them into civil airspace, where the possibility of colliding with private aircraft must be minimized.