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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Leader of ring that moved thousands of illegal aliens across U.S. sentenced to more than 6 years in prison

LOS ANGELES - A Guatemalan national who helped run a Los Angeles-based organization that harbored and transported more than 9,000 illegal aliens was sentenced today to 78 months in federal prison.

Francisco Andres-Francisco, 40, was sentenced by United States District Judge George H. King in Los Angeles. Andres-Francisco has been in custody since he was arrested 14 months ago in Pennsylvania after being found driving a van allegedly loaded with illegal aliens.

Andres-Francisco pleaded guilty in November to conspiracy to harbor, conceal and transport illegal aliens. Andres-Francisco was one of a dozen people indicted for their involvement in an operation that brought illegal aliens who had been smuggled into the United States to the Los Angeles area and, for hefty fees, arranged to move those people around the country. Paperwork collected during the investigation shows that the organization transported more than 9,000 illegal aliens over a four-year period.

The investigation - dubbed the "three Franciscos" because the three lead defendants are named Francisco - began in May 2005 when the Los Angeles Police Department discovered two "drop houses" in a 24-hour period in South Los Angeles. More than 140 illegal aliens who had recently been smuggled into the United States were packed into those two houses.

The subsequent investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) uncovered an organization run by Guatemalan nationals who provided housing and transportation to illegal aliens who had previously been smuggled into the United States from Mexico, Central American and South America. The smuggled aliens were brought to drop houses operated by the three Franciscos operation in Los Angeles and Lancaster, where they were housed until they or family members paid up to $5,600 each for the domestic portion of their journey.

While a group of illegal aliens was being transported by the three Franciscos operation from Arizona into the Los Angeles area in 2007, the minivan careened into a highway median near Barstow. The driver and 10 illegal aliens were ejected from the vehicle and suffered serious injuries, including crushed internal organs and cerebral hemorrhaging.

"To the best of my knowledge, this is the largest alien smuggling organization that ICE has detected in the Central District of California," ICE Special Agent John Zappone wrote in a declaration filed in relation to Andres-Francisco's sentencing.

Robert Schoch, special agent in charge for the ICE Office of Investigations in Los Angeles, stated: "As this sentence makes abundantly clear, greed-driven operators who harbor and transport illegal aliens for hefty fees can expect to pay a high price for their crimes. Large-scale transportation schemes like this put the security of our communities and even our country at risk. ICE is working aggressively to disrupt this kind of activity and dismantle the criminal organizations involved."

Andres-Francisco is one of six defendants who have pleaded guilty in relation to the three Franciscos operation. Previously, Francisco Andres-Pedro, 36, a Guatemalan national, another leader of the ring, was sentenced to 33 months in prison, and Henry Rodriguez-Sanchez, 28, a Guatemalan national who was a driver for the organization, was sentenced to 15 months in prison. Three other defendants are scheduled to be sentenced in the coming weeks. Six other defendants, including Francisco Pedro-Francisco, 30, a Guatemalan national, the third suspected leader of the organization, are fugitives.