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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
05/19/2009

BEST members arrest wife, husband team who allegedly smuggled aliens

Photo ICE Agents
Photo ICE Agents

EL PASO, Texas - A Lower Valley man charged with alien smuggling made his first appearance in federal court Monday after he was arrested by members of the Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST), which is led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

According to a federal indictment, between April 12 and April 20, Carlos Gonzalez, Jr., 30; and his wife, Jenny Maria Herrera-Dozal, 31, conspired to transport and harbor individuals illegally in the country for the purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain.

Gonzalez was arrested Friday at his home in the 8700 block of Buena Park. BEST members arrested Herrera April 21.

Herrera is charged with aiding and abetting bringing illegal aliens into the United States for financial gain; conspiring to transport illegal aliens; transporting illegal aliens for financial gain; conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens; and harboring illegal aliens. Gonzalez is charged with conspiring to transport illegal aliens, conspiring to harbor illegal aliens, and harboring illegal aliens. The aiding and abetting charge carries a mandatory minimum of three years in federal prison; each of the remaining counts call for a possible maximum of 10 years in prison.

A criminal complaint filed in federal court after Herrera's arrest reveals that on April 20, Herrera drove an Ecuadorian woman who was in the United States illegally to an Eastside business parking lot, where two men waited to deliver her to a truck driver. The truck driver was to transport the woman out of El Paso. According to the complaint, the smugglers charged the woman $14,000, and Herrera asked that the woman's relatives send an additional $4,700. Once the family paid the smugglers' fee, the Ecuadorian woman was to be reunited with her family in New York.

“Alien smuggling is a serious concern because of the vulnerability it represents to homeland security,” said Manuel Oyola-Torres, acting special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in El Paso. “With the help of our BEST partners, ICE is reducing that vulnerability by shutting down criminal alien smuggling organizations.”

A detention hearing for Gonzalez is set for 10 a.m. Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael McDonald. Herrera was released on $10,000 bond pending trial.

BEST is a U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), ICE-led initiative that operates along the U.S.-Mexico border. BEST in El Paso was formed in October 2006, and is one of 15 such teams nationwide. ICE is charged with enforcing a wide array of immigration and customs laws, including those related to securing the border and combating criminal smuggling.

El Paso's BEST members include: ICE; U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Office of Border Patrol and Office of Field Operations; the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the U.S. Department of State; the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); the El Paso County Sheriff's Office; the El Paso Police Department, and the U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Texas.

BEST members are co-located so that they can effectively share information. Close coordination among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies helps to identify and eliminate cross-border criminal organizations such as alien smuggling networks and the infrastructures that sustain them.

In the course of its work, BEST develops information that helps it identify “drop houses,” warehouses and hotels known or suspected to harbor illegal aliens and narcotics in the area. Since it was formed, the El Paso BEST team has identified several alien and narcotic smuggling organizations with ties to violent prison and street gangs on both sides of the border.

An indictment is merely a charge and should not be considered as evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.