PHOENIX- A Mexican man found guilty of hostage taking and human smuggling faces a minimum of 107 years in federal prison following a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigation of a Phoenix drop house.
Carlos Alvarez-Espinoza, 22, was found guilty of conspiracy, five counts of hostage taking and five counts of brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence, among other charges, by a federal jury in Phoenix June 19. Since Alvarez-Espinoza was convicted of five gun counts, he faces a mandatory minimum of 107 years for those counts alone.
"This investigation and successful prosecution is a testament to the strong partnerships and the commitment of the agents, officers, and prosecutors who are working together to make Phoenix a safer place," said Matthew Allen, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Arizona. "The violence exhibited by the defendant in this case will not be tolerated by law enforcement and the community."
The evidence at trial showed that Alvarez-Espinoza, along with at least four others, was part of a violent group of alien smugglers. In May 2008, the group held at least 23 illegal aliens hostage at a house in Phoenix. While held hostage at gunpoint, one victim was beaten with fists while others were pistol whipped, and all were threatened with death. At least two people escaped by jumping out a second story window, after which Alvarez-Espinoza and a co-defendant told the aliens that they were going to look for one of the escapees and make him pay by taking him out to the desert and killing him. A short time later, Alvarez-Espinoza drove away from the house with a co-defendant and two undocumented aliens. At the direction of ICE agents, the Phoenix Police Department performed a traffic stop on a vehicle driven by the defendant. A loaded firearm, possessed by Alvarez-Espinoza, was found in his car. A federal search warrant was then executed at the alien drop house where two additional co-defendants were located along with 21 hostages.
"This case demonstrates the greed and violence that now characterizes alien smuggling in Arizona," said U.S. Attorney Diane J. Humetewa. "Thanks to our vigilant law enforcement, hostages were freed and these violent criminals were brought to justice."
Five defendants were charged in the investigation. Two defendants previously pleaded guilty to gun counts, one is set for trial in September 2009, and the remaining defendant is currently awaiting trial in Maricopa County Superior Court. His case in federal court will go forward after the state matter is resolved.
Alvarez-Espinoza will remain in custody pending sentencing. Sentencing is set before Judge Campbell on October 19, 2009.