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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
07/24/2012

Jury convicts 2 Arizona men involved in shuttle service human smuggling ring

Both men remain at large after absconding during trial

TUCSON, Ariz. – Following a two-week trial, two southern Arizona men were convicted by a federal jury Monday for conspiring to bring, transport and harbor illegal aliens, the latest convictions stemming from a large scale investigation targeting Arizona human smuggling networks known as "Operation In Plain Sight," which was led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Eusebio Arce-Padilla, 57, of Rio Rico, and Miguel Torres-Organiz, 62, of Tucson, were convicted in absentia after both absconded during the trial. The court has issued arrest warrants for the pair, who are scheduled to be sentenced Oct.1 by U.S. District Judge Cindy K. Jorgenson.

The jury failed to reach a verdict on co-defendant Miguel Toralba-Mendia, 50, of Tucson. The court declared a mistrial in his case and has not yet set a new date for his retrial.

"This investigation and prosecution brought down a sophisticated human smuggling operation that was responsible for bringing thousands of illegal aliens into the country and funneling them through Tucson and Phoenix to destinations throughout the United States," said U.S. Attorney John S. Leonardo. "I commend our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, as well as our prosecution team, for their tremendous efforts in securing these convictions."

"These convictions represent a significant victory in law enforcement's efforts to dismantle illicit transnational human smuggling networks and the infrastructures that support them," said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of HSI Arizona. "HSI's 'Operation In Plain Sight' investigation was successful in large part because of the tireless dedication of our special agents as well as extensive cooperation from our federal, state and local partners and Mexican federal police. Our collective efforts have resulted in the conviction or guilty pleas of more than 70 defendants, including the head of the alien smuggling organization itself."

Trial evidence showed that Arce-Padilla, also known as "Chevo," led a Nogales-based alien smuggling organization that moved thousands of illegal aliens into the U.S. for more than five years. The organization guided aliens around the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 19 south of Green Valley and then transported the aliens in private vehicles to various commercial shuttle businesses in Tucson. There, the aliens boarded marked shuttle vans to be taken to parking lots in Phoenix. In Phoenix, the aliens were transferred to private vehicles and taken to drop houses where money was collected from sponsors before the aliens were transported to other destinations in the United States. The organization collected fees ranging from $1,700 to $2,000 per person for the trip from Nogales, Mexico, to Phoenix.

This was the second trial related to "Operation In Plain Sight," a major investigation implicating the owners and employees of five Arizona commercial shuttle services and resulting in indictments against 74 individuals in April 2010. In the first trial, which took place from Jan. 24 through Feb. 1, a jury returned guilty verdicts against Ruperto Guillen-Cervantes, 55, and Betty Castillo, 39, both of Tucson. Guillen-Cervantes and Castillo were both sentenced to 37 months in federal prison. All but one of the remaining defendants in the case entered guilty pleas. Charges against one defendant were dismissed on government motion.

A conviction for conspiracy to bring, transport and harbor illegal aliens carries a maximum penalty of10years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both. In determining an actual sentence, Judge Jorgenson will consult the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which provide appropriate sentencing ranges. The judge, however, is not bound by those guidelines in determining a sentence.

The bi-national investigation in this case was conducted by HSI, with support from numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, and included cooperation from Mexico's Secretaria Securidad Publica (SSP).

The case was prosecuted by Joseph E. Koehler, Jeffrey D. Martino, Brian G. Sardelli, Munish Sharda and Lisa Settel, Assistant U.S. Attorneys, District of Arizona.