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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

4 men plead guilty to firearms charges in ICE human smuggling case

Smugglers face up to 30 years in prison for using firearms during violent crime

PHOENIX - Four men from Mazatlan, Mexico pleaded guilty to brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence following a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigation into a hostage situation at an Avondale, Ariz., human smuggling drop house in March 2008.

The guilty pleas were entered in federal court in Phoenix during the last two weeks of December before U.S. District Judge Stephen M. McNamee. Rigoberto Aramburo-Lizzaraga, 25; Juan Andres Ramirez-Aguirre, 34; Franki Alfonso Garcia-Sustaita 31; and Santiago Casteneda-Aramburo 18, pleaded guilty to using and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence (hostage taking).

According to the indictment, the defendants held five illegal aliens hostage in a house in Avondale for a week in March 2008 to compel others to pay money to secure the aliens' release. While holding the aliens, the defendants brandished firearms to intimidate and control the hostages. The indictment also alleged the defendants harbored aliens for the purpose of private financial gain. Law enforcement officials from ICE and the Avondale Police Department encountered more than 50 illegal aliens at the house when they rescued the hostages.

The sentencing for Garcia-Sustaita is set for March 9, 2009, and for the remaining defendants on March 16, 2009. Under the terms of the plea agreements, the defendants will face no more than 30 years in federal custody.