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N4T Investigators: Public disservice?

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DOUGLAS, Ariz. - A firefighter with the Sunnyside Volunteer Fire Department is now under fire in federal court.

Israel Perieda, 35, was a captain with the department, which is located on the northeast side of town and is separate from the Douglas City Fire Department.

Federal court records show that Perieda has been charged with smuggling undocumented immigrants across the border for money.

No one answered the door when the News 4 Tucson Investigators went to Perieda's last known address on Friday.

Last week, we reported that Perieda's friend, U.S. Forest Service fire captain, Juan Antonio Corella-Tapia, was charged with human smuggling for money, twice.

Three undocumented immigrants were allegedly in his truck in Douglas on Jan. 8. Border Patrol agents said Corella-Tapia was driving a forest service truck, in uniform, taking instructions over the phone.

Court records show that Perieda was a passenger in the truck. Three weeks later, on Jan. 30, Border Patrol agents arrested Corella-Tapia again, in Sulphur Springs Valley. Agents said five illegal immigrants, including a child, were in his truck that time.

Corella-Tapia and Perieda were both Sunnyside firefighters. Chief Victor Rodriguez said Corella-Tapia was fired after his second arrest, and that Perieda has been suspended.

Three independent sources told the News 4 Tucson Investigators that some of the eight firefighters who currently volunteer with Sunnyside could be involved in smuggling.

One source called the two previous arrests, "the tip of the iceberg."

Chief Rodriguez declined an interview but sent this statement: "The fire district is fully cooperating with authorities on their investigation as to whether there might be other volunteers involved with the smuggling of illegal aliens."

Frank Figliuzzi, who's not involved in this case, is the FBI’s former assistant director of counterintelligence.

“The allegations depict a betrayal of the public trust,” Filiuzzi said. “I have to trust that the border patrol is working hand in glove with the FBI to address this much larger question: Who's pulling the strings? What's the source of money? How big is the smuggling operation?”

Sunnyside’s annual budget is nearly $200,000 taxpayers dollars.

Longtime Douglas resident Tanya Duarte, who is very involved in the community, said, “If we can’t trust them in what they’re doing, then it’s a huge violation against the city.”

Duarte says even if there are no more charges, two arrests are too many.

“Our taxes should never go to any criminal element,” she said. “These men, if they did do this and they're convicted of it, they need to go to prison.”

The attorneys for Perieda and Corrella-Tapia declined to comment.

Perieda was released on personal recognizance.

Corella-Tapia was in federal custody since forfeiting his bond after the second time he was arrested. His trial is scheduled to begin next month.

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

Matthew Schwartz

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