The Justice Department, along with the Department of Homeland Security and its partners, yesterday announced significant sentences obtained through Joint Task Force Alpha’s (JTFA) prosecution of leaders, organizers, and members of a prolific human smuggling scheme that resulted in the death of a Guatemalan migrant in 2021.
Four defendants were sentenced today in the Western District of Texas for their roles in the human smuggling scheme. Lopez Mateo Mateo, aka Bud Light, 43, was sentenced to 30 years in prison; Felipe Diego Alonzo, aka Siete, 40, was sentenced to 19 years and seven months in prison; and Nesly Norberto Martinez Gomez, aka Canche, 38, and Juan Gutierrez Castro, aka Andres, 46, were both sentenced to 10 years and one month in prison.
“The four defendants sentenced in this case were part of a deadly human smuggling operation that endangered vulnerable migrants for profit and cost one woman her life,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “When I directed the formation of Joint Task Force Alpha in 2021, I said that the Justice Department would combat the threats posed by dangerous human smuggling networks where they originate and operate. Since then, the Justice Department has made over 260 domestic and international arrests and secured 150 convictions on human smuggling charges. The Justice Department will continue to disrupt and dismantle the threat posed by human smuggling and trafficking operations.”
“Human smugglers will do anything to make a profit and the Department of Homeland Security will do everything in its power to stop them,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “The sentencing of these four individuals is the direct result of an unprecedented, whole-of-government effort to prevent these crimes and seek justice for victims. In close partnership with the Justice Department and others through JTFA, our Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents will continue to investigate and dismantle the transnational criminal organizations that prey on vulnerable people.”
“Tragedies like this serve as a stark reminder of the dangers human smugglers pose to migrants,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Joint Task Force Alpha, with our international law enforcement partners, will continue to pursue and take down dangerous transnational operations that undermine our lawful immigration system and exploit migrants in the name of profit.”
According to court documents, the defendants admitted to conspiring with other smugglers to facilitate the movement of large numbers of migrants from Guatemala through Mexico and ultimately into the United States. They charged the migrants and their families approximately $10,000 to $12,000 for the perilous journey. One of the journeys resulted in the death of a young indigenous Guatemalan woman, who died in Texas in April 2021. The woman’s family paid the defendants approximately $10,000 to smuggle her into the United States. The defendants arranged for her to be guided for several days on foot through the desert from Mexico into Texas and then driven to a stash house in Odessa, Texas, where she ultimately died. The defendants and their co-conspirators dumped her body on the side of a rural road outside Odessa, Texas. The defendants and their co-conspirators also arranged to pay off the victim’s family in Guatemala.
“These sentences reflect the lengths and degrees this office and the overall Justice Department will go to seek justice for the victims of heinous crimes and prevent further harm,” said U.S. Attorney Jaime Esparza for the Western District of Texas. “Smuggling rings like these operate, not with any concern for their victims’ lives, but rather their greed and desire for cold, hard cash. In coordination with our partners, both in the United States and worldwide, we will continue to do everything in our power to dismantle these networks and hold smugglers accountable.”
“HSI will continue to apply its broad investigative authority and international footprint to ensure members of these transnational criminal networks are held accountable for preying upon and abusing a vulnerable population,” said Special Agent in Charge Francisco B. Burrola of HSI El Paso. “Our message is clear: If you’re running one of these elicit organizations that are moving human cargo, we will find you no matter how near or far you are.”
Each defendant pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to bring an alien to the United States resulting in death. As announced last year, extensive coordination between U.S. and Guatemalan law enforcement authorities led to the indictment and arrest of these four defendants, as well as the apprehension of 15 additional co-conspirators in Guatemala. Pursuant to an extradition request, in March, Guatemalan authorities extradited Mateo Mateo, Diego Alonzo, Martinez Gomez, and Gutierrez Castro to the United States – the first Guatemalan human smuggling extraditions to the United States in nearly five years, and the first ever extraditions from Guatemala to the United States on charges of human smuggling resulting in death.
HSI Midland led the investigation, working in concert with HSI Guatemala and the HSI Human Smuggling Unit in Washington, D.C. HSI received substantial assistance from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations; ICE’s Parole and Law Enforcement Programs Unit; U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center/Operation Sentinel; U.S. Border Patrol; U.S. Marshals Service; the Odessa and Midland Police Departments; the Texas Department of Public Safety; and the Ector County, Midland County, and Crane County Sheriffs’ Offices.
The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs (OIA) provided significant assistance to secure the arrest and extradition of the four defendants. The Criminal Division’s Office of Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and Training (OPDAT) provided case-based mentoring to support the investigation. The Justice Department is grateful to Guatemalan law enforcement, who were instrumental in furthering this investigation.
JTFA Co-Director James Hepburn of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP) and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jose Luis Acosta and John Fedock for the Western District of Texas prosecuted the case, with substantial assistance from Assistant U.S. Attorney Adrian Gallegos for the Western District of Texas and HRSP Historian and Latin America Specialist Joanna Crandall.
This prosecution and the collaboration with Guatemalan law enforcement were coordinated under Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA). Attorney General Garland created JTFA in June 2021 in partnership with DHS to strengthen the Justice Department’s efforts to combat the rise in prolific and dangerous smuggling emanating from Central America and impacting our border communities. JTFA is comprised of detailees from U.S. Attorneys’ Offices along the southwest border, including the Southern District of Texas, the Western District of Texas, the District of New Mexico, the District of Arizona, and the Southern District of California. Dedicated support is also provided by numerous components of the Criminal Division that are part of JTFA, led by HRSP, and supported by ODPAT, the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, the Office of Enforcement Operations, OIA, and the Violent Crime and Racketeering Section. JTFA also relies on substantial law enforcement investment from DHS, FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and other partners. To date, JTFA’s work has resulted in over 260 domestic and international arrests of leaders, organizers, and significant facilitators of human smuggling; over 150 convictions; significant jail sentences imposed; and forfeitures of substantial assets.