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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Defendant in smuggling-related hostage case receives 20-year sentence

PHOENIX - A Mexican man has been sentenced to 20 years in prison after being found guilty by a federal jury of multiple charges for his role in a violent smuggling-related hostage incident investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Rufino Valdez-Lopez, 45, of Sinaloa, Mexico, was sentenced here Wednesday by U.S. District Court Judge Earl H. Carroll. He was found guilty in October 2007 on charges ranging from conspiracy to take hostages to possessing and using a firearm during a crime of violence.

In April 2007, Valdez-Lopez and five other co-defendants worked for a criminal organization that held 76 illegal aliens hostage at a residence in Peoria, Arizona. Valdez-Lopez and his co-conspirators possessed and brandished a Romarm AK-47 Type Assault Rifle to intimidate and control the aliens. The aliens received very little food and were detained in three small bedrooms.   Valdez-Lopez consistently threatened the aliens and ensured that the aliens did not stand or speak in the bedrooms. One victim testified that he was held hostage for nearly 40 days in the house. By the time the victim was rescued by law enforcement, he was physically and mentally weak from the lack of food and unsanitary living conditions.

"Targeting smugglers who prey on human beings is a top priority of ICE," said Troy Henley, acting special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Arizona. "Alien smugglers have a callous disregard for the value of human life. We will continue to aggressively pursue these types of human smuggling cases where people's lives are jeopardized for personal profit."

Valdez-Lopez's five co-defendants all pleaded guilty to similar charges in plea agreements and are serving sentences ranging from two to five years in federal prison.