U.S. authorities seem pretty cocksure about this case: After a boat ran around in Carlsbad and smuggling-at-sea suspects they were shadowing on land led them to an apartment in Anaheim several hours later, they found …

… nine illegal immigrants there whose clothing was caked with sand.

So the lesson here is that when you sneak into the U.S. via Pacific Ocean, rinse off when you get here. But seriously …

… the operation Friday by the Los Angeles Border Enforcement Security Task Force (LA BEST) led to ” … a key figure in a large-scale maritime human smuggling organization and three alleged accomplices, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office in L.A.

The foursome was due in court today.

It all started about 7 a.m. Friday when Carlsbad police called in LA BEST for help with an abandoned “panga”-style boat near Ponto Beach in the northern San Diego County town.

While scratching their chins, the feds were simultaneously tracking what they believed to be an ocean-based smuggling operation in Rancho Palos Verdes.

In fact the night before they were looking at a van parked in a beach-side neighborhood there.

Reading between the lines, it seems like agents were expecting those suspects to drive that van to the beach to pick up undocumenteds on the sand. But that didn't happen.

“Investigators say the Ensenada-based vessel that came ashore in Carlsbad was originally supposed to make landfall farther north,” according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. “However, the smugglers had to abort the plan after the boat developed engine trouble.

LA BEST agents kept on the van the next morning and eventually followed it to that sandy Anaheim apartment — six hours after the Carlsbad landing.

Charged in the case:

-Suspected 24-year-old ringleader Mario Echeverria, 24, a U.S. citizen residing in Tijuana.

-Alleged Anaheim drop-house caretaker Javier Gomez-Dominguez, 30, of Mexico

-Suspect boat captain Jose Sevilla, 26, of Mexico.

-And alleged navigator and fuel man Fernando Medina-Gonzalez, 43, of Mexico.

As part of their alleged conspiracy to bring, transport and harbor illegal aliens each of the four could see 10 years, according to the feds.

The case shows that smuggling immigrants via beach is a bigger and bigger problem in recent months, with smuggling boats found as far north as Malibu.

Special Agent Claude Arnold of ICE:

The surge in maritime smuggling here in the Los Angeles area poses a significant security and safety threat, which is why it demands an aggressive response. We know these criminal organizations' clients include previously deported felons and others we don't want in our communities. Beyond that, there are serious safety issues for the smuggled aliens themselves, who are being transported in overloaded, often unseaworthy boats, risking injury or even death.

… and sand in their shorts.

LA Weekly