SAN DIEGO - A Guatemalan woman pleaded guilty here yesterday to federal charges following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that revealed she and her husband ran a criminal organization that smuggled Mexican nationals into the United States and forced them to work using physical and verbal threats.
Gloria Eugenia Leon-Aldana, 37, pleaded guilty to three counts of bringing in illegal aliens for financial gain and one count of forced labor. As part of her plea, Leon-Aldana admitted she forced an alien to work by threatening to report him to the Border Patrol if he did not comply with her instructions. Leon-Aldana is scheduled to be sentenced April 7.
According to court documents, Leon-Aldana and her Mexican national husband, Mario Antonio Antunez-Sotelo, 44, harbored the smuggled aliens at two residences located in Logan Heights. The aliens held in those homes were repeatedly threatened and the couple took their identity documents to keep them from fleeing.
Antunez-Sotelo has been charged with threatening the aliens and their families with physical harm and brandishing a shotgun at one of the residences. He remains at large and a warrant has been issued for his arrest.
"This case underscores ICE's resolve to work with its law enforcement partners to ensure that those who engage in this kind of reprehensible form of exploitation are brought to justice," said Miguel Unzueta, special agent in charge for the ICE office of investigations in San Diego. "However, we can not do this alone. We need to hear from people in the community who have vital tips that will lead us to victims who may be living in fear."
The charges stem from an ICE-led investigation into a longstanding criminal organization with ties to Los Angeles and Tijuana, Mexico. The two other defendants charged in the case, Juan Andres-Santos and Agustin Alonso-Terrero, pleaded guilty last week to one and three counts of smuggling aliens for financial gain, respectively. Andres-Santos was sentenced yesterday to time served, approximately 13 months in custody, and three years of supervised release. Alonso-Terrero's sentencing is set for April 1.
ICE is seeking the public's help in locating Antunez-Sotelo. Anyone with information about him is asked to contact the ICE tip line at 1-866-347-2423.