PHOENIX—Mauricio Gerardo Aguilar-Espinoza, 25; Jorge Zaragoza-Alvarado, 24; Cesar Valentin Garcia-Aguilera, 32; Antonio Cruz-Ramirez, 19; Pedro Martin Luna-Fuentes 25; Oscar Daniel Hernandez-Juarez, 23; and Jaime Zamora-Martinez, 38; all of Mexico, were sentenced yesterday by U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton for Possessing, Using, and Carrying a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence. All seven defendants had also been indicted for the violent crime of Hostage Taking and all pleaded guilty.
The Court found that five of the seven defendants had brandished a firearm during the crime which raised the statutory minimum from five to seven years in federal prison. Judge Bolton sentenced Hernandez-Juarez and Zamora-Martinez to 10 years in federal prison, Aguilar-Espinoza, Zaragoza-Alvarado and Luna-Fuentes to eight years each, and Garcia-Aguilera and Cruz-Ramirez to five years each.
On January 31, 2009, El Mirage Police officers responded to an emergency 911 call on West Columbine Drive in El Mirage, Ariz. Upon their arrival, officers found 37 men and one female crammed into two rooms at a human smuggling drop house. The men were dressed only in their underwear. The windows in the bedrooms where the illegal aliens were found had been boarded up and there was a foul smell present. Law enforcement also recovered two baseball bats, a gun, and a knife at the house.
Special Agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were called to assist with the investigation. Agents learned that seven of these men were in fact smugglers who had been working at the house and who had stripped down to their underwear just before the police arrived in order to make it appear that they were part of the smuggled group. The smuggled aliens had been held hostage for ransom and during their captivity, were given very little food, shared a few cups to drink water, were forced to strip down to their underwear and were told not to speak to the police.
Investigators also learned that the alien hostages were threatened with death and/or serious bodily injury if their family members did not pay the smuggling fee. Witnesses explained how the defendants used a gun, baseball bats and knife to detain and intimidate them. One witness described how one of the defendants threatened him, stating in substance that if his friends did not pay the smuggling fee, the smugglers would take the witness out to the desert, “chop off” his body parts, and leave him to die. Several witnesses describe how one particular defendant threatened to break the legs or feet of the hostages and throw them in the desert. Another alien hostage witness described how one of the defendants pointed a gun at his head because he was unable to reach his brother, while another described how a smuggler “racked” a semi-automatic pistol as a way of scaring the victim hostages. Several of the defendants were observed threatening the aliens with a gun and some of the hostages were struck with baseball bats.
The investigation was handled by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the El Mirage Police Department. The prosecution was handled by Walter Perkel, Jim Knapp and Melissa Karlen, Assistant U.S. Attorneys, District of Arizona, Phoenix.
CASE NUMBER: CR-09-0171-PHX-SRB
RELEASE NUMBER: 2009-366(Aguilar-Espinoza et al)&/p