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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
09/09/2011

Smuggler who mistreated aliens at Los Angeles-area 'drop house' sentenced to more than 7 years

LOS ANGELES — A Guatemalan national was sentenced Friday to 87 months in federal prison for helping oversee the operation of a human smuggling "drop house" in Lancaster where illegal aliens were held against their will, denied food and physically assaulted.

Roberto Jose-Tomas, 33, was sentenced this morning by Judge George H. King. Jose-Tomas pleaded guilty in October 2010 to alien smuggling and hostage taking. The case resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Jose-Tomas has been in custody for nearly two years after being identified as one of the "enforcers" at the drop house, where illegal aliens were held against their will until relatives paid smuggling fees – fees that were often increased once the aliens arrived in the United States.

When he pleaded guilty, Jose-Tomas admitted he was involved in the brutal treatment of a Salvadoran national who was rescued from the drop house after suffering abuse that included being attacked with a cattle prod or similar electrical device. That alien had been kept in a boarded-up room without clothing or blankets.

"Tragically, this case shows yet again the ruthlessness and brutality of the human smuggling trade," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Los Angeles. "To the smugglers, these people are simply a payday and they have no qualms about using threats and violence in an effort to collect their smuggling fees. As this sentence makes clear, those who exploit people in this despicable way will themselves face serious consequences."

Jose-Tomas is the fourth defendant sentenced in connection with this human smuggling case. Last month, Pedro Marcos-Marcos, 29, who oversaw the smuggling organization and directed the brutal treatment of the aliens, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. A third defendant, Diego Francisco-Pasqual, 34, was convicted of alien smuggling and hostage taking and was sentenced last year to 87 months in federal prison. The fourth and final defendant prosecuted in relation to this investigation – Juan Lorenzo Marquez-Diaz, 36, a Mexican national, who was one of the drivers of the organization – was sentenced to 46 months in prison.