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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
01/16/2013

2 Guatemalan men receive lengthy sentences in Arizona drop house hostage case

PHOENIX – Two Guatemalan men were sentenced by a federal judge Monday to lengthy prison terms for their roles in a hostage-taking conspiracy that resulted in the violent treatment of smuggled aliens held captive in a Mesa drop house.

Domingo Agustin-Simon, 31, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge David G. Campbell to 42 years in federal prison for conspiracy, hostage taking and brandishing a shotgun in connection with hostage taking. Leonardo Rabanales-Casia, 30, was sentenced at the same hearing to 25 years in prison for conspiracy and hostage taking.

The sentences follow the pair's October conviction by a federal jury on charges stemming from a probe led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

"These lengthy sentences serve not only to punish and deter such cruel and inhumane activity but also to protect the public from dangerous individuals that prey upon the vulnerabilities of their victims," said U.S. Attorney John S. Leonardo.

"This case illustrates the ruthlessness and brutality of the human smuggling trade," said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of HSI Arizona. "The smugglers treated the people in the drop house as a mere business commodity, with no qualms about jeopardizing their lives in order to extort personal profit. Investigating these cases is a top priority for HSI, and we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to bring those who would choose to exploit people in this despicable way to justice."

Evidence presented at trial showed the defendants were part of an organization that smuggled aliens into the U.S. to a drop house in Mesa. In August 2011, HSI special agents and officers from the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Phoenix Police Department went to the drop house and found more than 40 illegal aliens being held inside. Trial testimony revealed the smugglers used a shotgun to keep order in the house and threatened the aliens with physical harm and death in an effort to extort monetary payments from the aliens' families. One hostage was beaten by the smugglers and women in the drop house were sexually assaulted.

Four other co-defendants previously pleaded guilty in connection with their roles in the drop house and were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 24 months to eight years.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christine D. Keller and Sean K. Lokey of the U.S. Attorney's Office-District of Arizona.