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: human smuggling

Operation Dark Night Charges 13 Additional Defendants for Sex Trafficking

A superseding indictment, returned Thursday, February 7, 2013, in federal court, has added 13 more defendants for their roles in an alleged sex trafficking and prostitution ring operating in Mexico, Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and elsewhere. In total, 25 defendants have now been charged in the superseding indictment, which follows the original 12-defendant indictment returned in January.

The federal charges follow a lengthy investigation dubbed “Operation Dark Night,” led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). In addition to the 12 arrests and nearly 20 search warrants executed in January, federal authorities rescued 11 women alleged to have been forced into prostitution. The investigation of this case remains ongoing.

United States Attorney Edward Tarver said, “The superseding indictment adds even more gruesome details to the allegations of an already reprehensible human trafficking ring operating within our very own communities. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners will not stop until all of those responsible are brought to justice.”

“The superseding indictment alleges that this sex trafficking ring was even more extensive and ruthless,” said Brock D. Nicholson, special agent in charge of HSI Atlanta. “Over a dozen new suspects, including ‘johns,’ have now been added. Of more concern are new allegations that members of this conspiracy arranged to hold some of their victims’ children hostage in Mexico to ensure their compliance as prostitutes in the United States. The investigation in Operation Dark Night will continue until we have rooted out all of the bad actors in this conspiracy and have brought them to justice.”

According to allegations in the superseding indictment, some of the defendants would entice women from Mexico and elsewhere to travel to the United States with false promises of the American dream. Once inside the United States, these women were allegedly threatened and forced to commit acts of prostitution at numerous locations in Savannah, Ga., and throughout the southeast. Women were alleged to have been forced to perform as many as 25 acts of prostitution a day.

Tarver stressed that an indictment is only an accusation and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the government’s burden to prove the defendants’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

HSI provides relief to victims of human trafficking by allowing for their continued presence in the United States during criminal proceedings. Victims may also qualify for a T-visa, which is issued to victims of human trafficking who have complied with reasonable requests for assistance in investigations and prosecutions. Anyone who suspects instances of human trafficking is encouraged to call the HSI tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (866-347-2423) or the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Anonymous calls are welcome.

Operation Dark Night was led by HSI, with assistance from the FBI; the ATF; U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP); CBP Air and Marine Operations; Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS); IRS-Criminal Investigations; the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department; the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office; the Garden City Police Department; and, the Chatham County Counter Narcotics Team.

HSI Busts Alien Smuggling Ring

Three Mexican men face federal charges following their arrest Friday, December 7, 2012, at a West Valley drop house discovered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Francisco Javier Astorga-Velarde, 22, Jose Pedro Soto-Valdez, 32, and Noel Galdinez-Marmolejo, 32, appeared in federal court Monday, December 10, 2012, where they were charged in a federal complaint with conspiring to harbor illegal aliens.

HSI special agents were first alerted to the drop house Dec. 5 after a woman contacted HSI Atlanta to report that a man was demanding she pay him $4,000 or he would kill her niece, who was allegedly being held hostage in a drop house in Phoenix. HSI Atlanta alerted HSI Phoenix special agents, who worked around the clock to develop information on the possible location of the drop house. By the morning of Friday, December 7, 2012, special agents had sufficient reason to believe the woman was being held in a residence on West Highland Avenue.

When special agents and officers from the Phoenix Police Department responded to the house, they observed the defendants fleeing out the back door. The defendants ran back inside after seeing police. Special agents approached the back door and called to the occupants of the house to come outside. The defendants complied and were taken into custody. Fearing for the safety of the people inside, special agents entered the home and discovered 14 smuggled aliens, including the niece of the woman who alerted authorities. Special agents subsequently obtained a federal search warrant for the residence and discovered two 9 mm handguns inside.

According to the criminal complaint, Astorga-Velarde served as the “boss” of the house. He allegedly hit two male victims in the face with a gun and called the wife of one of the men, threating to kill her husband if she did not pay his smuggling fee. Astorga-Velarde is also accused of threatening a female alien with sexual assault and claiming he would cut her into pieces and throw her in the trash. The complaint alleges Galdinez-Marmolejo used a gun to hit one of the male victims on the head, face, hands and feet. Soto-Valdez allegedly beat the male victim with the guns and threatened to sexually assault, cut, kill or sell the female aliens in the house if their smuggling fees were not paid.

The investigation is ongoing and the defendants may face additional charges. The case is bei ng prosecuted by Lisa Jennis Settel of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona.

A criminal complaint is simply the method by which a person is charged with criminal activity and raises no inference of guilt. An individual is presumed innocent until competent evidence is presented to a jury that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Since January, HSI has encountered 35 drop houses containing 436 illegal aliens in the metropolitan Phoenix area.

MS-13 Gang Officially Designated a Transnational Criminal Organization by HSI

On Thursday, October 11, 2012, the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) with the assistance of the Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) designated the Latin American gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) as a transnational criminal organization (TCO). This group is being designated by Treasury pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13581, which targets significant TCOs and their supporters. E.O. 13581 is a key part of the National Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime.

Using the authority provided in E.O. 13581, Treasury is targeting the economic power of MS-13 as a transnational criminal network – and those individuals and entities who work with them, enable them and support them – by freezing any assets those persons may have within U.S. jurisdiction. Any property or property interests in the U.S., or in the possession or control of U.S. persons in which these targets have an interest are blocked, and U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.

“This designation allows us to strike at the financial heart of MS-13 and is a powerful weapon in our fight to dismantle one of the most violent, transnational criminal organizations operating today,” said ICE Director John Morton. “History has proven that we can successfully take down organized crime groups when we combine sophisticated investigative techniques with tough street level enforcement, cutting off cash flows, contraband and collaborators to ensure they no longer find safe haven in our communities.”

“MS-13 is an extremely violent and dangerous gang responsible for a multitude of crimes that directly threaten the welfare and security of U.S. citizens, as well as countries throughout Central America,” Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen stated. “This action positions us to target the associates and financial networks supporting MS-13, and gives law enforcement an additional tool in its efforts to disrupt MS-13’s activities.”

MS-13 is being designated for its involvement in serious criminal activities, including drug trafficking, human smuggling and sex trafficking, murder and violence, racketeering, and immigration offenses. MS-13, consisting of at least 30,000 members and present in at least five countries, including the United States, is one of the most dangerous criminal gangs in the world today. MS-13 violently protects its illicit interests through murder, murder for hire, kidnapping, blackmail, extortion and assassination. MS-13’s creed is exemplified by one of its mottos, “mata, roba, viola, controla,” which translates in sum and substance to “kill, steal, rape, control.” In addition, MS-13 members have been responsible for numerous killings within the United States.

The HSI National Gang Unit will take the law enforcement lead, under this MS-13 enforcement effort dubbed, “Operation Barbed Wire.” The National Gang Unit removes gang members from our neighborhoods and, when appropriate, from the United States. In 2005, HSI initiated Operation Community Shield, an international law enforcement initiative to enhance U.S. public safety. Operation Community Shield partners with existing federal, state and local anti-gang efforts to identify violent street gangs and develop intelligence on gang members and associates, gang criminal activities and international movements, to arrest, prosecute, imprison and/or deport transnational gang members as well as to suppress violence and prosecute criminal enterprises. The National Gang Unit’s goal is to deter, disrupt and dismantle gang operations by tracing and seizing cash, weapons and other assets derived from criminal activities. Since 2006, HSI has arrested 4,078 MS-13 gang members and, partnering with the U.S. Department of Justice, has successfully brought to indictment numerous MS-13 racketeering investigations in Washington, D.C., Virginia, New York, San Francisco, Houston, and Atlanta.

MS-13 is the first transnational criminal street gang designated as a TCO. Others TCOs include the The Brothers’ Circle, Camorra, Yakuza, and Los Zetas in the United States.

ICE and ERO Announce New Deportation Initiative

 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Mexican Ministry of the Interior announced Tuesday, October 2, 2012, the beginning of the Interior Repatriation Initiative (IRI), a new pilot to provide humane, safe and orderly repatriation of Mexican nationals to the interior of Mexico and ultimately to their hometowns, instead of returning them to towns on the U.S.-Mexico border.

ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) will provide air transportation via charter aircraft to Mexican nationals who emigrated from the interior of Mexico. Upon arrival in Mexico City, the Government of Mexico will provide them transportation to their places of origin. This initiative will allow the Government of Mexico to assist returning Mexican nationals in safely reintegrating into their communities.

“IRI reflects our commitment and ongoing bilateral effort with the government of Mexico to ensure strong, humane and effective enforcement of both nations’ immigration laws,” said ICE Director John Morton. “This initiative will better ensure that individuals repatriated to Mexico are removed in circumstances that are safe and controlled.”

Gustavo Mohar Betancourt, Undersecretary of Mexico’s population, migration and religious affairs said, “This initiative aims to collaborate and fully support border state authorities by reducing the number of Mexican nationals who are repatriated to the border region. The newly repatriated, often with no means to return home, are susceptible to becoming a part of criminal organizations as a means of survival.”

The IRI will include Mexican nationals pending removal from all areas of the United States. Historically, a significant number of individuals are not from the northern border towns to which they are repatriated, leaving them in communities where they have no ties or family support. Removing Mexican nationals to the interior of Mexico is part of an effort to reduce repeat attempts to illegally enter the United States, avoid the loss of human life, and minimize the potential for exploitation of illegal migrants by human smuggling and trafficking organizations as well as other criminal organizations.

Individuals who participate in the pilot initiative are transferred from across the United States to the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral, N.M., before departure on an IRI flight.

The first repatriation flight of 131 Mexican nationals departed El Paso International Airport Tuesday, Oct. 2 and flights are scheduled to continue this year through to Nov. 29. Mexican nationals participating in IRI are removed on charter flights via the ICE ERO Air Operations (IAO) Unit. Headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., IAO has supported ERO since 2006 by providing air transportation and removal coordination services to ERO field offices nationwide. Staffed by ERO officers, these air charters enable the agency to repatriate large groups of deportees in an efficient, expeditious and humane manner.

4 Arrested for Massive Human Smuggling Ring

Four Mexican nationals were charged Tuesday, September 25, 2012, in federal court in a massive human smuggling case that resulted in the rescue of 82 illegal aliens in a Houston residence, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

The investigation is being conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Houston Police Department.

The criminal complaint, filed Tuesday, September 25, 2012, charges the following four men with harboring, transporting, and conspiracy to harbor and transport illegal aliens: Luis Trejo-Onofre, 30, Jose Santos-Solorzano, 24, Jose Victor Perez-Olivas, 42, and Gumecindo Jaime-Martinez, 37. They are expected to make their initial appearances before U.S. Magistrate Judge George C. Hanks Wednesday.

On Sept. 18, a Nicaraguan national flagged down a Houston police officer to report that her 17-year-old daughter was being held by an alien smuggling organization that was allegedly extorting additional smuggling fees as a condition of her release. The woman, who had traveled from San Antonio to pick up her daughter from the smuggling organization, was allegedly directed to wire an additional $1,700 to Jalisco, Mexico, via Western Union. According to the complaint, the smugglers told her she better deposit the money if she wanted to see her daughter again.

After several calls, the alleged smuggler told the woman to meet at a local drug store at the intersection of Gessner and Interstate 10, and he would let her have her daughter for $1,500, according to the complaint. An undercover special agent accompanied the woman to the meeting and observed the girl in the suspects’ vehicle. Soon after, special agents and officers blocked the vehicle and activated emergency lights and sirens. The complaint indicates Trejo-Onofre and Santos-Solorzano were in the two front seats, but refused to open the doors and rammed one of the vehicles surrounding them.

HSI special agents broke one of the car windows, rescued the girl, and took the suspects into custody. The minor female stated that she was held along with several other illegal aliens, including children, who were allegedly being held by armed smugglers and were often mistreated.

The residence was soon located on the 3400 block of Boxelder in Houston. HSI special agents observed and followed Perez-Olivas as he left to purchase food at a local store and then returned to the residence. Special agents and officers then began to secure the residence and identify those inside.

According to the complaint, most of the male subjects being held in the house were only wearing underwear. One of the agents recognized Perez-Olivas among the group whom several of the aliens pointed out as a smuggler as well as Jaime-Martinez.

Some of the aliens identified the four charged and their alleged actions. The complaint also includes allegations that some of the aliens were hit, kicked, punched and some were locked in a closet for long periods of time and fed minimally. The alleged smugglers, some of whom carried weapons according to the complaint, also ordered some of the aliens to remove their clothing.

Eighty-two aliens were being held in the house from six different countries; eight were juveniles. At the time of the arrests, several weapons were also seized.

If convicted, each of the men charged faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Doug Davis and Celia Moyer, Southern District of Texas, are prosecuting the case.

A criminal complaint is an accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

82 Freed from Horrific Alien Trafficking Stash House

An alleged hostage situation resulted in 82 individuals being freed, and four suspected human smugglers arrested, Wednesday, September 19, 2012, from a human smuggling stash house by agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and officers from the Houston Police Department (HPD).

A call was received Tuesday, September 18, 2012, from the mother of a 16 year-old female being held hostage in the Houston area. HSI and HPD initiated the investigation, resulting in the rescue of the teenager on Wednesday, September 19, 2012, in a parking lot located near I-10 and Gessner St.

Based on information developed at the scene, HSI identified a stash house, operating out of a residence located on the 3400 block of Boxelder Dr. in west Houston, suspected of holding 70 individuals who allegedly been smuggled into the United States. Additional information indicated that the individuals inside were being held against their will by smugglers carrying firearms.

A total of 86 individuals were discovered at the residence from the following countries: Costa  Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. Of the 86 individuals encountered, 62 were male, 15 were female, and nine were juveniles. Their ages range from 14 to 48 years-old and four individuals encountered at the house are suspected of being human smugglers from Mexico.

“During the course of these investigations illegal aliens smuggled into the United States can become kidnapping victims while awaiting the payoff of smuggling fees,” said Sean McElroy, deputy special agent in charge of HSI Houston. “HSI is committed to using every available resource to identify, investigate and arrest those transnational criminal organizations involved in crimes related to hostage taking as well as human smuggling.”

All 82 freed from the stash house are currently in ICE custody and are undergoing administrative and medical processing. The investigation is ongoing.

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.

Texas Man Sentenced for Involvement in Human Smuggling Ring

A 27-year-old southwest Texas man was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison Monday, April 30, for alien smuggling that resulted in the death of a Honduran national. The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland
Security Investigations (HSI) with the assistance of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Border Patrol.

Fernando Ochoa, 27, was sentenced April 30 in federal court in Eagle Pass, Texas, to 216 months in federal prison.

“Targeting smugglers who prey on human beings is an HSI top priority,” said Jerry
Robinette, special agent in charge of HSI San Antonio. “Human smugglers have a callous disregard for the value of life. We will continue to aggressively pursue these alien smugglers who jeopardize the lives of others for their personal profit.”

According to court documents, on Sept.15, 2010, the Border Patrol had been tracking
suspected crossings of illegal aliens through the brush in the vicinity of Highway 277 between Eagle Pass and Carrizo Springs. That day the Border Patrol detained several illegal aliens who told agents that one man had been abandoned in the brush. The Border Patrol responded to the location and encountered a deceased Honduran national.

The Border Patrol contacted HSI and apprised them of the situation. HSI special agents responded and immediately began questioning those arrested by the Border Patrol. HSI learned that Luis Francisco Ochoa-Ramon and Ariel Gonzalez, both Mexican nationals, worked for Ochoa as alien smuggling guides. Both Ochoa-Ramon and Gonzalez were arrested and convicted of human smuggling resulting in death. They were each sentenced to 60 months in federal prison.

Ochoa has been in federal custody since his arrest Oct. 14, 2010. He will remain in custody until he is transported to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility in the near future.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Celia Moyer, Western District of Texas, successfully prosecuted
this case.

Colorado Men Indicted for Human Smuggling, Fraud

A federal grand jury in Denver on Friday, March 9, indicted two men for charges related to human trafficking.

This indictment was announced by the following agencies: the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General.

One defendant, Kizzy Kalu, 47, of Highlands Ranch, Colo., was arrested without incident March 4. He appeared in U.S. District Court Thursday, March 8, and was arraigned on
the indictment. A U.S. magistrate judge ordered Kalu released on bond. However, that decision is being appealed by the government. A co-defendant, Philip Langerman, 77, of McDonough, Ga., has not yet been taken into custody.

According to the indictment, Kalu and Langerman were involved in a scheme making false
representations to foreign nationals, to the State of Colorado, to the United States, and to others to obtain money under false and fraudulent pretenses and representations. One purpose of the scheme was to obtain the apparent lawful presence in the United States of foreign nationals who would supply labor to a business entity controlled by Kalu. After the foreign nationals’ presence was obtained, Kalu used methods of coercion, including the threat of causing their deportation, to obtain their labor at various long-term care
facilities in Colorado.

Langerman made representations that “Adam University,” is located in Denver, Colo., and was a bona fide institution of higher education needing professional nursing instructors (nursing is considered a “specialty occupation” under U.S. immigration regulations). Adam University is alleged to have existed in name only. The foreign nationals were granted H-1B visas permitting them to be employed as nurse instructors/supervisors at Adam University.

The scheme allegedly involved Foreign Healthcare Professional Group (FHPG), a
company operated by Kalu, which recruited foreign nationals to be employed by Adam University as teaching professionals and supervisors in the field of nursing. Kalu
allegedly knew Adam University was an educational institution in name only.

FHPG made multiple materially false representations to the foreign nationals,

  • that FHPG had a business relationship with Adam University in Denver in
    which FHPG recruited nursing instructors/supervisors who provided instruction
    at the university;
  • that Adam University was a bona fide institution of higher education, and had a curriculum which included nursing education and a continuing education program in nursing;
  • that FHPG had the authority to recruit and hire nurse instructors/supervisors on behalf of Adam University, and use the information they obtained from prospective students to petition the U.S. government on their behalf;
  • and, that Kalu and FHPG had the authority to offer employment at Adam
    University to foreign nationals at a salary of between $68,000 and $72,000 annually.

In fact, Adam University was not an institution of higher education;

  • it had no curriculum, no students and no professors or instructors;
  • the foreign nationals would not be employed by the university but by FHPG at long-term healthcare facilities where FHPG paid for their labor;
  • the foreign nationals would not work in the specialty occupations for which the petitions were made to the U.S. government by Adam University;
  • and, the foreign nationals would not be paid the amount of money they were promised by the petitioner-employer.

The scheme involved foreign nationals who had been recruited by Kalu, arriving in Denver, Colo., and told there were no nurse instructor/supervisor positions at Adam University. Instead, they were directed to work in occupations which were not their
specialty, as Langerman had represented to the United States. FHPG forced the
nurses to work in long-term care facilities in Colorado. Kalu, acting as a representative
of FHPG, contracted with a number of entities which operated and managed these
facilities. FHPG contracted with these facilities to provide nurses – the foreign nationals recruited by Adam University. The employers paid FHPG to provide the foreign nationals as workers. FHPG paid them a rate amounting to about 65 percent of the amounts the employers paid to FHPG, and less than 50 percent of what had been promised them by Adam University.

The scheme involved FHPG and Kalu making payments to Adam University and Langerman. In some cases, Kalu terminated the contracts between the long-term care facilities and the FHPG nurses, but required the foreign nationals to continue to seek employment and pay FHPG a monthly fee. Kalu threatened to notify U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of Adam University’s withdrawal of the H-1B visas issued to some of the foreign nationals if they did not follow his directions, including working as staff
nurses at the long-term care facilities.

The defendants face 132 counts of charges, including: commercial carrier/mail fraud, visa fraud, forced labor, attempted forced labor, trafficking in forced labor, money laundering, aiding and abetting, and criminal forfeiture. If convicted, the two face from 10 to 20 years in prison per count, and a fine of up to either $250,000 or $500,000 depending on the count.

“The victims of this crime were promised a life the defendants never intended to deliver,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh, District of Colorado. “Defendants brought these foreign nationals to the U.S. under fraudulent pretenses, and then forced them to work and give away part of their wages. If they refused, defendants threatened them with deportation. The conduct in this case highlights the harm created by human trafficking and the
importance of aggressive enforcement of federal laws against it.”

“Homeland Security Investigations aggressively investigates human trafficking cases,” said Michael A. Holt, special agent in charge of HSI Denver. “However, to effectively identify and aid the victims and prosecute the traffickers, we must increase public awareness of this modern-day version of slavery.” Holt oversees a four-state area, including Colorado,
Montana, Utah and Wyoming.

“This case represents the finest efforts of cooperative law enforcement,” said Michael Bayer, special agent in charge of the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service. “If criminal enterprises are enabled to manipulate the instruments of international travel for profitable gain, then we are all at risk on the national security level. The federal agencies, police and sheriff’s departments involved, along with the United States Attorney’s Office deserve high praise for protecting the victims of this crime and vigorously defending
the interests and security of theUnited States of America.”

“This indictment demonstrates the Office of the Inspector General’s commitment to
investigate allegations of visa fraud perpetrated against the Department of Labor’s foreign labor certification programs. To that end, we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to protect the integrity of such programs,” state David C. Wickersham, special agent in charge of the Dallas Regional Office for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations.

This case was investigated by HSI, the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General’s Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations. Further critical support was provided by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Office of Fraud Detection and National Security, and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

The defendants are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Brown and
Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Lillian Alves, District of Colorado.

The charges contained in the indictment are allegations, and the defendants are
presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Leader of Human Smuggling Operation Sentenced to 3 1/2 Years

The leader of a local human smuggling organization was sentenced on Tuesday, March
6, to 42 months in prison, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. The investigation was led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Corpus Christi Police Department Organized Crime Unit.

Lorena Martinez, 37, of Portland, Texas, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison by U.S. District Judge John D. Rainey. Martinez had previously pleaded guilty to two counts of bringing in and harboring aliens. The following individuals were also sentenced March 6: former Portland, Texas, firefighter Peter Jones, 30; Beatrice Rodriguez, 40, and April Stevens, 30, both of Corpus Christi, Texas; Pedro Vargas, 33, of Houston; and Jesus Alcala-Mendoza, 31, a Mexican national. Additionally, two real properties were forfeited that were derived from proceeds of the criminal conspiracy.

Rodriguez had previously pleaded guilty to one count of transporting and harboring aliens, and was sentenced to 33 months in prison. Alcala-Mendoza, Jones and Vargas also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport aliens. They received prison sentences of 42 months, 12 months and a day, and four months in prison, respectively. Stevens, who pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge, was ordered to serve two years of probation.

The investigation revealed a large-scale human smuggling organization based in Corpus Christi and Portland, Texas, that specialized in smuggling Brazilian nationals into the United States. According to court records, this organization operated with impunity for decades. Aliens were illegally transported in the back of enclosed tractor trailers to Robstown, Texas, where they were unloaded and disseminated throughout the United
States. Special agents also uncovered about $500,000 in Western Union transactions between Martinez and other co-conspirators in relation to their illegal activities.

Stevens, Jones and Vargas were allowed to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender to a
U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility to be determined in the near future. Alcala-Mendoza and Martinez were ordered to remain in custody pending transfer to a BOP facility.

Alejandro Hernandez, 53, of San Antonio, Texas, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport aliens. He will be sentenced May 14.

Additional investigative assistance was provided by the police and fire departments in Portland, Texas, and by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patti Hubert Booth, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting
the case.