PHOENIX — Three Mexican men face federal charges following their arrest Friday 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, 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 Friday morning, 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 being 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.