Making Immigration Happen
Chicago Woman Arrested for Selling Fraudulent Identity Documents to Illegal Aliens
A woman was arrested Wednesday, February 13, 2013, on charges she allegedly sold fraudulent identity documents to illegal aliens. These charges resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigra

Tag Archives: alien smuggling

Two Convicted Fugitives Sought for Extensive Alien Trafficking

Following a two-week trial, two southern Arizona men were convicted by a federal jury Monday, July 23, 2012, for conspiring to bring, transport and harbor illegal aliens, the latest convictions stemming from a large scale investigation targeting Arizona human smuggling networks known as “Operation In Plain Sight,” which was led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Eusebio Arce-Padilla, 57, of Rio Rico, and Miguel Torres-Organiz, 62, of Tucson, were convicted in absentia after both absconded during the trial. The court has issued arrest warrants for the pair, who are scheduled to be sentenced Oct.1 by U.S. District Judge Cindy K. Jorgenson.

The jury failed to reach a verdict on co-defendant Miguel Toralba-Mendia, 50, of Tucson. The court declared a mistrial in his case and has not yet set a new date for his retrial.

“This investigation and prosecution brought down a sophisticated human smuggling operation that was responsible for bringing thousands of illegal aliens into the country and funneling them through Tucson and Phoenix to destinations throughout the United States,” said U.S. Attorney John S. Leonardo. “I commend our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, as well as our prosecution team, for their tremendous efforts in securing these convictions.”

“These convictions represent a significant victory in law enforcement’s efforts to dismantle illicit transnational human smuggling networks and the infrastructures that support them,” said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of HSI Arizona. “HSI’s ‘Operation In Plain Sight’ investigation was successful in large part because of the tireless dedication of our special agents as well as extensive cooperation from our federal, state and local partners and Mexican federal police. Our collective efforts have resulted in the conviction or guilty pleas of more than 70 defendants, including the head of the alien smuggling organization itself.”

Trial evidence showed that Arce-Padilla, also known as “Chevo,” led a Nogales-based alien smuggling organization that moved thousands of illegal aliens into the U.S. for more than five years. The organization guided aliens around the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 19 south of Green Valley and then transported the aliens in private vehicles to various commercial shuttle businesses in Tucson. There, the aliens boarded marked shuttle vans to be taken to parking lots in Phoenix. In Phoenix, the aliens were transferred to private vehicles and taken to drop houses where money was collected from sponsors before the aliens were transported to other destinations in the United States. The organization collected fees ranging from $1,700 to $2,000 per person for the trip from Nogales, Mexico, to Phoenix.

This was the second trial related to “Operation In Plain Sight,” a major investigation implicating the owners and employees of five Arizona commercial shuttle services and resulting in indictments against 74 individuals in April 2010. In the first trial, which took place from Jan. 24 through Feb. 1, a jury returned guilty verdicts against Ruperto Guillen-Cervantes, 55, and Betty Castillo, 39, both ofTucson. Guillen-Cervantes and Castillo were both sentenced to 37 months in federal prison. All but one of the remaining defendants in the case entered guilty pleas. Charges against one defendant were dismissed on government motion.

A conviction for conspiracy to bring, transport and harbor illegal aliens carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both. In determining an actual sentence, Judge Jorgenson will consult the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which provide appropriate sentencing ranges. The judge, however, is not bound by those guidelines in determining a sentence.

The bi-national investigation in this case was conducted by HSI, with support from numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, and included cooperation from Mexico’s Secretaria Securidad Publica (SSP).

The case was prosecuted by Joseph E. Koehler, Jeffrey D. Martino, Brian G. Sardelli, Munish Sharda and Lisa Settel, Assistant U.S. Attorneys, District of Arizona.

U.S. and Mexico Meet for Human Trafficking Summit

More than 100 representatives from the government and private sectors, including high-level law enforcement representatives from the U.S. and Mexico, convened in Los Angeles Thursday, July 12, 2012, for a binational summit to strategize on ways to enhance existing efforts to combat human trafficking in both countries.

The daylong conference, organized by U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Mexican Consul General in Los Angeles, focused on ways the U.S. and Mexico can work more closely together to detect trafficking activity and prosecute suspected perpetrators. Featured speakers included Nelly Montealegre Diaz, who oversees the Mexican Attorney General’s special prosecutions unit involving crimes of violence against women and human trafficking.

“For everyone at this week’s meeting, combatting human trafficking is a top priority, but despite that, we believe a significant number of trafficking cases continue to go undetected,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. “The goal of the summit was to share ideas on further steps we can take together to bolster efforts to prevent this reprehensible crime.”

“No human being deserves to be trafficked, abused or exploited,” said David Figueroa, the consul general of Mexico in Los Angeles. “We must not allow our borders to be barriers in the ongoing effort to combat this problem. Our shared goal is to achieve a society free of human trafficking and human smuggling.”

Topics covered during the conference included an overview of current human trafficking investigative strategies in both the U.S. and Mexico. Representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles and the Mexican Attorney General’s Office discussed case prosecutions. Other speakers detailed the current services available to assist trafficking victims and the vital role such support plays in these cases.

Conference organizers say the meeting was very productive. Participants agreed to look for ways to expand the existing information sharing between the two countries on human trafficking cases. Beyond that, the discussions resulted in a renewed commitment by both countries to seek new and innovative ways to collaborate on human trafficking enforcement efforts.

Human Smuggler Sentenced to Three Years

A Mexican fugitive who was extradited back to Mississippi to face human smuggling charges was sentenced to more than three years in prison Wednesday, July 11, 2012, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Pedro Estrada-Onofre, 50, was initially arrested in January 2008 after the vehicle he was driving was stopped by U.S. Border Patrol agents in Hinds County, Miss. In September 2008, Estrada-Onofre failed to appear at a scheduled hearing on his case in Mississippi. A bench warrant was then issued for his arrest. In February 2011, the U.S. Marshals Service reported that Estrada-Onofre had been located in Mexico. The U.S. Department of Justice requested a provisional arrest warrant through the Department of State with Mexican law enforcement. Estrada-Onofre was arrested January 23 by Mexican law enforcement in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. He was extradited from Mexico City to the Southern District of Mississippi June 15 and will serve 37 months in the federal penitentiary.

“This sentence is a testament to cooperation amongst law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border,” said Raymond R. Parmer Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New Orleans. “I credit the persistence of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi for ensuring that Mr. Estrada-Onofre did not escape justice for his crimes.”

Operation UNIFORCE was a Border Patrol operation conducted over a two-week period in January 2008. The Border Patrol brought in a mobile processing truck and about 50 patrol agents from the Southwest border in order to apprehend and interview recently entered illegal aliens. The operation resulted in the arrest of 406 illegal aliens.

In conjunction with the operation, HSI special agents interviewed several drivers and co-drivers and reviewed evidence discovered in the vehicles. As a result, HSI special agents referred eight subjects for criminal prosecution for transportation of illegal aliens. Six of those subjects, including Estrada-Onofre, were convicted in 2008. One case involving two suspects is still being adjudicated.

Mexican Natives Arrested for Alien Smuggling

Three Mexican men face federal human smuggling and illegal reentry charges after the drop house they were allegedly operating in Mesa was discovered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

Jesus Castillo-Mejia, 47, and Genaro Guzman-Guzman, 29, appeared in federal court Thursday, where they were charged with human smuggling. A third man, Marco Guzman-Guzman, 27, Genaro Guzman-Guzman’s brother, was charged with illegally reentering the United States following a previous deportation order.

HSI special agents were first alerted to the drop house Wednesday, June 27, 2012, when they received a tip that numerous suspected illegal aliens were being staged at a residence located on South Hobson Street in Mesa. When special agents responded to the location, they observed several people attempting to flee from the house. They pursued the individuals back into the house and obtained a federal search warrant to search the property. Inside the house, special agents discovered the defendants and 22 other illegal aliens, from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Ecuador. The group included three women and one teenage boy. Special agents also found a 9 mm pistol when they searched the house.

“While the number of drop houses in the Phoenix area has declined over the past few years, this case illustrates that human smuggling remains a cold, ruthless business,” said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of HSI Arizona. “To the smugglers, these people are simply a commodity, not human beings. HSI is committed to finding these criminals, arresting them, and working with our partners at the U.S. Attorney’s Office to bring them to justice.”

According to the criminal complaints, Castillo-Mejia showed the smuggled aliens a handgun, ordered them to stay in the house and threatened to pistol whip anyone who attempted to escape. He later demanded an additional $1,000 smuggling fee from one of the women in the group. Witnesses stated that Genaro Guzman-Guzman referred to the aliens as “pollos” or chickens, and pointed a gun at a woman in the group.

The investigation is ongoing.

HSI has encountered 18 drop houses containing more than 200 illegal aliens in the metropolitan Phoenix area since January.

Indiana Alien Harboring Group Arrested

Six people were arrested Wednesday, June 20, 2012, and charged with harboring illegal aliens as part of a conspiracy that allegedly obtained motor vehicle registrations, license plates and titles for illegal aliens. These arrests resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

The following defendants were each charged in an indictment returned June 14 with one count of conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens and one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud: Margarito Fuentes-Reyes, 50, of Goshen, Ind., and Omar Lagunes Duran, 34, Yalitza Exclusa Borrero, 31, Evelyn Rivera Borrero, 43, Raul Rafael Roman Camacho, 47, and Luis Omar Montes-Merino, 33, all from Indianapolis.

The indictment alleges that the defendants presented false information, forged documents and made false representations to the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the Indiana Secretary of State. They also made false representations regarding the identity of the actual owners of motor vehicles to obtain motor vehicle registrations, license plates and titles. By committing these and other crimes, the defendants concealed, harbored and shielded illegal aliens from detection and encouraged illegal aliens to enter and remain in theUnited Statesin violation of immigration laws. The conspirators operated at locations in Indianapolis and Elkhart, Ind.

The following agencies assisted HSI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in the investigation: the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, the Elkhart Police Department, the Indiana State Police, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the Indiana Secretary of State. Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the Southern District of Indiana also provided assistance.

The public is reminded that the charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.

Honduran National Arrested for Alien Hostage Taking

A Honduran man was convicted Wednesday, June 6, 2012, of hostage taking and other
related crimes, announced U. S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. The investigation was conducted by the Houston Police Department (HPD), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Cesar Avila, 35, an illegal alien from Honduras, was convicted of the following charges: four counts of hostage taking, one count of using a firearm during a crime of violence, and four counts of aiding and abetting harboring illegal aliens. The convictions followed a three-day jury trial before U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal.

Testimony during the trial showed that the Houston Emergency Center received a 911 call Aug. 19, 2011 at its operations facility from a subject who spoke only Spanish. The victim stated that he was being held against his will at a house in Houston by alien smugglers who had been hired to smuggle him to an unspecified location in the United States.
He claimed Avila was armed with a handgun and had threatened the smuggled aliens with death, and they feared for their lives.

The Houston residence was eventually located on the 100 block of Jamaica Street by HPD officers. The residence had no windows, and the French doors on the north side had the glass panes covered with aluminum foil.

Once law enforcement entered the residence, several people, later identified as hostages, pointed to Avila as the hostage taker and smuggler. Officers also discovered a semi-automatic handgun and a ledger detailing payments by the smuggling organization under the mattress where Avila was sitting.

One smuggled alien advised officers he had been in the Houston area for about eight days and had been moved from house to house with five other aliens. He admitted he was in
the country illegally, and that he paid smugglers $5,000 to smuggle him into the United States. He identified Avila as the man who was holding him. He said Avila was armed with a handgun and had threatened to kill him if he tried to escape. Further testimony revealed that the smugglers threatened to kill him if his family did not pay an additional $5,000.

The mother of a smuggled alien testified that smugglers contacted her and her
family to demand more money. They threatened her son’s life, and the life of her family, if the additional money was not paid. She was so frightened she contacted police who conducted surveillance to protect them. Her daughter also testified that the family raised money by borrowing it from friends and sent as much money as they could via wire transfer to the smugglers in Mexico.

Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 9. Avila faces up to life in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Julie Searle and Douglas Davis, Southern District of Texas,
prosecuted the case.

Texas Company Accused of Harboring and Employing Illegal Aliens

A Texas firm and its field operations supervisor were charged Tuesday, May 29, 2012, with harboring and transporting illegal aliens and conspiracy to commit those offenses as outlined in an indictment by the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Peter J. Smith.

The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE)  Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with participation from the FBI and Williamsport (Pa.) Bureau of Police.

GPX/GPX, USA, a seismic surveying company based in Sealy, Texas, and its field  operations supervisor, Douglas C. Wiggill, were charged with committing the offenses in Williamsport, Pa.

Court documents from the HSI investigation allege that in May 2011 GPX and Wiggill
hired 19 illegal aliens to work on a seismic surveying project in Lycoming County. The indictment alleges that GPS and Wiggill failed to verify the immigration status of the aliens and did not prepare the required Form I-9 and supporting documentation concerning the
aliens’ authorization to work in the United States.

“Homeland Security Investigations is committed to holding businesses and their managers
accountable when they knowingly hire an illegal workforce,” said John Kelleghan, special agent in charge of HSI Philadelphia. “HSI and our law enforcement partners will continue to ensure that employers follow our nation’s hiring laws, which ultimately protect job opportunities for the nation’s legal workers, and levels the playing field for those businesses that play by the rules.”

According to the indictment, GPX executed a contractor compliance agreement certifying
that all personnel were authorized to work legally in the United States when, in fact, they were not. On June 23 and 24, 2011, HSI special agents and officers of the Williamsport Bureau of Police arrested 19 aliens employed by GPX at, or in the vicinity of apartments rented for them in Williamsport by Wiggill and GPX. The arrests were the result of an investigation of one of the aliens by Williamsport police.

Wiggill, a 42-year resident of Ft. Worth, Texas, was taken into custody in Williamsport, Pa.
If convicted, he faces a maximum aggregate sentence on all 20 counts of the indictment of 100 years in prison, a fine of $5 million, a supervised release term of 60 years, and a special assessment of $2,000. GPX faces a total maximum fine of $10 million, a probation term of five years on each count, and a special assessment totaling $8,000.

An indictment is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Leader of Alien Smuggling Ring Sentenced

The ringleader of an alien smuggling organization responsible for the death of five
people was sentenced to 16 years and eight months in federal prison May 21,
following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE)
Homeland Security Investigations special agents.

Armando Garcia-Lopez, 43, former resident of Tornillo, Texas, was sentenced in connection with an illegal alien smuggling operation that resulted in five deaths in 2004.

In January 2012, a jury convicted Garcia-Lopez of conspiracy to transport aliens
resulting in death, illegally transporting aliens resulting in death, aiding and abetting the illegal transportation of aliens, and aiding and abetting the harboring and concealing of an alien.

On April 5, 2004, Melinda O’Brien of Floydada, Texas, died as a result of a head-on collision involving her semitractor trailer and another semitractor trailer. The accident occurred in the early morning on Highway 285 about 17 miles south of Pecos, Texas.

Testimony during the January trial revealed that at the time of the accident, O’Brien was
traveling northbound in the southbound lane, while transporting six illegal aliens in the cab of her semitractor trailer. In addition to O’Brien, three aliens also died at the scene of the crash. A fifth person, Paul Wesley Wilkins, of Kermit, Texas, also died. He crashed his vehicle into O’Brien’s overturned trailer, which could not be seen because of the
weather conditions.

Evidence presented to the jury established that Garcia-Lopez recruited stash house
operators and directed drivers to transport illegal aliens. Testimony also revealed that the passengers in O’Brien’s vehicle were part of Garcia-Lopez’s smuggling operation.

Garcia-Lopez fled to Mexico following the April 2004 vehicle crash. However, seven years later he was arrested by federal authorities in Alpine, Texas. In addition to the prison term, Garcia-Lopez was ordered to pay $11,000 restitution to the Wilkins family, as
well as be placed under supervised release for five years after he completes his prison term.

El Salvador Nation Sentenced for Illegal Alien Trafficking

A citizen of El Salvador was sentenced to 18 months in prison Tuesday, May 22, for transporting illegal aliens for profit through Mississippi, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Mississippi Highway Patrol.

Mario Carballo, 29, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge William H. Barbour Jr. after
pleading guilty to the charge in February.

“Organizations like this see people as nothing more than currency,” said Raymond R.
Parmer, Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New Orleans. “ICE remains committed to shutting down vulnerabilities in our immigration system by attacking and dismantling the organized networks that transport illegal aliens for profit.” Parmer oversees HSI activities in Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana.

HSI initiated an investigation into Carballo in November after receiving a request for assistance from the Mississippi Highway Patrol. The Mississippi Highway Patrol encountered Carballo during a traffic stop on Interstate 20 in Rankin County, Miss.

Carballo drove a minivan transporting nine illegal aliens to various locations along the
East Coast with a final destination in Maryland. During an interview with HSI special agents following his arrest, Carballo, of Los Angeles, Calif., admitted that he knew what he was doing was illegal.

3 Sentenced for Alien Smuggling Ring that Left Elderly Woman Dead

Three individuals were sentenced to federal prison Tuesday, May 22 for their roles in
an alien smuggling scheme that resulted in the death of a 70 year-old woman in her home, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

The driver of an SUV carrying smugglers and illegal aliens was driving at a high rate of speed attempting to elude police officers when he crashed the vehicle into a home in Falfurrias, Texas.

Romeo Cantu and Marcos Adrian, both of Falfurrias, Texas, and Evarardo Hernandez-Salazar, a Mexican national, were sentenced by Senior U.S. District Judge John Rainey to 96, 52 and 64 months in federal prison, respectively, for their roles in the scheme. In handing down the sentences, Judge Rainey noted that he hoped the sentences in this tragic case would be a deterrent to others engaging in this all-too-common crime.

On Aug. 6, 2011, at about 3:30 a.m., a Brooks County, Texas, Sheriff’s deputy initiated a traffic stop on a Chevrolet Suburban for an unsafe lane change and failing to signal. The driver initially stopped, but as the deputy approached the vehicle, the driver accelerated rapidly. Shortly thereafter, the SUV crashed and went completely through the victim’s home. The victim was struck and killed instantly.

All the occupants of the SUV fled from the vehicle before law enforcement authorities arrived. Police officers soon located one of the smugglers, Adrian, after a brief foot pursuit and found seven illegal aliens hiding in the bed of a nearby truck. The driver of the vehicle, an individual known only as “Perico,” escaped.

HSI agents learned the defendants, along with Perico, were involved in a conspiracy
to transport illegal aliens within the United States and actively participated in the smuggling operation. Evidence revealed that Hernandez-Salazar picked up the aliens Aug. 5, 2011 and drove them to a motel in Donna, Texas. Several hours later they were transported north in a station wagon driven by Perico. Hernandez-Salazar, Cantu and Adrian provided cover for the vehicle until a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper initiated a traffic stop, at which time Perico and the aliens exited the station wagon and fled into the brush.

Perico guided the aliens around a checkpoint and made contact with Hernandez-Salazar,
Cantu and Adrian by cellular telephone. Adrian drove from Cantu’s residence to the designated pick-up spot, where Perico and the aliens boarded the SUV. Perico shoved Adrian from the driver’s seat to the front passenger seat, took the driver’s seat himself and started driving.

All the defendants gave statements to law enforcement agents and admitted their own
involvement and that of their co-conspirators in the alien smuggling scheme. The illegal aliens were interviewed and provided details regarding the smuggling attempt, including that they yelled at Perico to stop the SUV after he had accelerated rapidly in his attempt to escape.

Hernandez-Salazar, Cantu and Adrian have been in custody since their arrest where they will remain pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the
near future.

Anyone with information as to “Perico’s” whereabouts is asked to contact Homeland Security Investigations at 361-888-3501. He is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey D. Preston, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this
case.