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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

4 men who took 10 aliens hostage sentenced to lengthy prison terms

MCALLEN, Texas - Four men convicted of taking 10 aliens hostage, including one man who accidently shot himself, were sentenced on Monday to 11 to 20 years in prison for threatening their hostages, announced U.S. Attorney José Angel Moreno, Southern District of Texas. The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) with the assistance of Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office.

Freddy Bermudez-Benito, 28, was sentenced to 20 years in prison; Mario Leon-Villa, 21, was sentenced to 14 years; Juan Alberto Jimenez, 25, was sentenced to 11 ½ years; and Jose Rocha Pinon, 25, was sentenced to nine years. U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced them on June 27 for their role in hostage taking. A fifth defendant, Hugo Oscar Rodriguez-Montoya, 37, of Tamaulipas, Mexico, remains to be sentenced later this month. Each defendant has also been ordered to serve a three-year period of supervised release after they complete their prison sentences. All defendants entered guilty pleas in late 2010 and early 2011.

According to court documents, on May 10, 2010, ICE HSI special agents were notified that Leon-Villa, of Guanajuato, Mexico, had shot himself during a botched alien smuggling attempt. At that time, agents interviewed a smuggled alien who had escaped from Leon-Villa and the others. The smuggled alien told agents he had made arrangements to be smuggled into the United States.

During the early hours of May 10, 2010, his smuggler placed him and at least nine other aliens, including one child, in a truck. He further stated that before they could leave their location, Bermudez-Benito, of Guanajuato, Mexico, and another unidentified male assaulted their driver at gunpoint and took them and the truck to a house in Penitas, Texas. They were all told they needed to pay $2000 as a condition for their release.

The smuggled alien and several others managed to escape their captors who were all armed. It was at this time that Leon-Villa accidentally shot himself while threatening the remaining aliens. During the course of the investigation, ICE HSI located the remaining smuggled aliens in a stash house in Edinburg, Texas. The aliens identified Leon-Villa as one of the stash house guards and Bermudez-Benito as the one who made some of the extortion phone calls to their family members. The aliens also identified Jimenez, of Edinburg, Texas, and Pinon,of Edinburg, Texas, as stash house guards.

All defendants are presently in custody and will remain in custody pending transfer to a Bureau of Prisons facility where they will serve their sentences. The foreign national defendants also face possible deportation after they complete their prison terms.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Leo J. Leo III and Kristen Rees, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted the case.