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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
03/30/2010

Eritrean man pleads guilty to alien smuggling

WASHINGTON - Samuel Abrahaley Fessahazion, 23, an Eritrean national, has pleaded guilty to helping smuggle illegal aliens to the United States for private financial gain, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Custom and Border Protection (CBP).

Fessahazion, aka "Sami," aka "Sammy," aka "Alex" and aka "Alex Williams" pleaded guilty on March 29, 2010, in Houston to one count of conspiracy and two counts of encouraging and inducing aliens to come to, enter or reside in the United States in violation of law for the purpose of private financial gain.

"Breaking this global alien smuggling network puts smugglers on notice that we are coming after them and we will shut them down," said ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton. "ICE will continue to identify the most dangerous international human smuggling organizations for investigation and prosecution."

According to plea documents, from at least June 2007 until approximately January 2008, Fessahazion was the Guatemalan link of an alien smuggling network that spans East Africa, Central and South America. Specifically, Fessahazion illegally entered the United States at McAllen, Texas, on March 20, 2008. He applied for asylum on Sept. 30, 2008, claiming in his application that he was traveling across Africa in 2007 and 2008, fleeing persecution in Eritrea. However, Fessahazion was actually in Guatemala during that period facilitating the smuggling of East African aliens to the United States.

Fessahazion was granted asylum by the United States on Nov. 13, 2008.

Fessahazion admitted that for profit, he encouraged or induced at least six and up to 24 illegal aliens, primarily East Africans, to come to, enter, or reside in the United States knowing that they were not authorized to do so. Fessahazion admitted he moved aliens from Honduras through Guatemala and into Mexico illegally, at which point he referred aliens to a smuggler who brought the aliens into the United States.

In one instance, Fessahazion and his co-conspirators moved two illegal aliens from South Africa to Sao Paulo, Brazil, then through Venezuela to Honduras where they were instructed to contact Fessahazion. Once in contact, Fessahazion sent a driver to pick up the two aliens and bring them to Guatemala City, Guatemala. In exchange for $800, Fessahazion took the two aliens by bus to a house bordering Guatemala and Mexico. There, working with a co-conspirator, Fessahazion provided information to the couple on how to cross the border into Mexico illegally and how to proceed once in Mexico to the United States border. Fessahazion and the co-conspirator provided the couple with a guide who physically took them into Mexico and provided contact information for an unidentified smuggler known only by the alias "Matamoros," who would in turn take the two aliens to the United States from Reynosa, Mexico. In February 2008, the couple was illegally brought to the United States by guides working for "Matamoros." According to court documents, the guides carried guns and ferried the couple across the river on the Mexico/U.S. border in inner tubes.

In another example, an alien was moved from Dubai to Brazil, then to Honduras via Colombia and Costa Rica. According to court documents, a co-conspirator told the alien he could get him from Dubai to Brazil, at which point others would assist the alien each step of the way to the United States in a "chain like" fashion.

According to court documents, once the alien arrived in Honduras, Fessahazion sent a driver to retrieve him and bring him to Guatemala City. In exchange for $700, Fessahazion took the alien to the Guatemala/Mexico border and, along with a co-conspirator, gave the alien information on how to cross the border into Mexico illegally and how to proceed once in Mexico to the United States border, including contact information for "Matamoros." The alien then traveled into Mexico, contacted "Matamoros" and traveled to Reynosa as "Matamoros" instructed. In December 2007, guides working for "Matamoros" took the alien and others to the United States illegally by ferrying them across the river on the Mexican/U.S. border in inner tubes. Shortly after crossing the border into the United States, the alien and others were apprehended.

At sentencing, scheduled for June 14, 2010, Fessahazion faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

"By bringing this smuggler to justice, we have broken a chain that runs from Africa to South and Central America, directly into the United States," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer. "We will not allow these dangerous smuggling organizations to profit from bringing people illegally into the United States."

"This prosecution strikes a significant blow to a criminal organization engaged in a sophisticated international alien smuggling operation," said U.S. Attorney José Angel Moreno of the Southern District of Texas, "and highlights the continuing cooperation and success of multiple law enforcement agencies in interdicting such activities."

ICE works with its law enforcement partners to dismantle the global criminal infrastructure engaged in human smuggling. ICE accomplishes this mission by making full use of its authorities and expertise, stripping away assets and profit incentive, collaborating with U.S. and foreign partners to attack networks worldwide.

Human smuggling is the importation of people into the United States involving deliberate evasion of immigration laws. This offense includes bringing illegal aliens into the country, as well as the unlawful transportation and harboring of aliens already in the United States.

The investigation was conducted by the ICE Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Washington, with the assistance of SAC San Francisco, the ICE Human Smuggling and Trafficking Unit, ICE Office of Intelligence, ICE Office of International Affairs and CBP's Office of Alien Smuggling Interdiction.