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March 23, 2023Yuma, AZ, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

2 conspirators indicted in global human smuggling conspiracy after HSI Yuma investigation

YUMA, Ariz. — U.S. and Mexican law enforcement authorities, including Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), cooperated to help Interpol and the Fuerza Estatal de Seguridad Ciudadana (FESC) arrest a human smuggler and their co-conspirator who officials allege has operated on the U.S.-Mexico border for several years.

“Investigating human smuggling is nothing new for HSI special agents in Arizona, but this case and subsequent arrests abroad stands out as one that was made possible by the unwavering commitment of our law enforcement partners like the U.S. Border Patrol,” said HSI Arizona Special Agent in Charge Scott Brown. “HSI will not stop investigating human smuggling cases, no matter where in the world these smugglers live, and will continue to do so with the support of our partners.”

Ofelia Hernandez-Salas, 60, and co-conspirator Raul Saucedo-Huipio, 48, were arrested in Mexico at the request of the United States pursuant to charges previously filed in the District of Arizona and unsealed last week. Hernandez-Salas and Saucedo-Huipio allegedly conspired with other smugglers to facilitate the travel of large numbers of migrants from and through Bangladesh, Yemen, Pakistan, Eritrea, India, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Russia, Egypt, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico into the United States.

Hernandez-Salas and Saucedo-Huipio allegedly charged the migrants tens of thousands of dollars for the illegal and perilous journey. In addition to large-scale migrant smuggling, Hernandez-Salas and Saucedo-Huipio often allegedly robbed migrants of their personal belongings while armed with guns and knives.

“Combating human smuggling is one of our top law enforcement priorities and a critical component of national security,” said ICE’s Deputy Director and Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Director Tae D. Johnson. “Homeland Security Investigations special agents are committed to holding transnational criminal organizations accountable for perpetrating this horrific crime. We will continue to employ our full range of law enforcement techniques and authorities against human smugglers — let today’s announcement serve as a reminder that we will expose you, dismantle your networks, and see that you face justice.”

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, in partnership with DHS Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas, created JFTA in June 2021 to strengthen the department’s efforts to combat the rise in prolific and dangerous smuggling emanating from Central America and impacting our border communities. JTFA’s goal is to disrupt and dismantle human smuggling and trafficking networks operating in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico with a focus on networks that endanger, abuse or exploit migrants, present national security risks or engage in other types of transnational organized crime.

“The indictment and arrests of human smugglers send a stark message that the Department of Justice will not rest until all those who feed on the desperation of others are brought to justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “By dismantling an organization that has operated with impunity for so many years, we have taken yet another stride toward making the global community a safer place. It is thanks to our tremendous partnerships with countries like Mexico that we are able to draw a line in the sand and make it crystal clear that people will no longer be treated like commodities and their lives will no longer be put at risk in the name of profit.”

“Once again we see that international cooperation is far more important to a border strategy than physical barriers,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Gary Restaino. “These defendants allegedly conspired to flout America’s immigration laws and to victimize the very migrants they were purporting to help. Our friends and neighbors in Mexican law enforcement have been integral to our efforts to bring this smuggling ring to justice.”

“This administration has led an unprecedented anti-human smuggling campaign that leverages the full weight of the U.S. government, and it is showing results,” said Deputy Secretary John K. Tien of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). “These indictments build on tremendous collaboration across the federal government, which includes JTFA, and the investments we continue to make in strengthening our relationships with partners in the region and throughout the hemisphere. We are unwavering in our commitment to continuing to hold transnational criminal networks accountable, and to bring them to justice.”

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), along with our partners, will continue to use every authority at our disposal to curtail these threats and prevent harm,” said CBP acting Commissioner Troy Miller. “Our ongoing joint enforcement efforts to attack and dismantle these dangerous global criminal networks will keep our borders strong and local streets and communities safe.”

Since its creation, JTFA has successfully increased coordination and collaboration between the Justice Department, DHS and other interagency law enforcement participants, and with foreign law enforcement partners, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico; targeted those organizations who have the most impact on the United States; and coordinated significant smuggling indictments and extradition efforts in U.S. attorneys’ offices across the country. JTFA comprises detailees from Southwest border U.S. attorneys’ offices, including the Southern District of Texas, the Western District of Texas, the District of New Mexico, the District of Arizona and the Southern District of California, and dedicated support for the program is also provided by numerous components of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division that are part of JTFA — led by the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP) and supported by the Office of Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and training, the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, the Office of Enforcement Operations, the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, and the Organized Crime and Gang Section. JTFA is made possible by substantial law enforcement investment from DHS, the FBI, DEA and other partners.

The investigation is also supported by the Extraterritorial Criminal Travel Strike Force (ECT) program, a partnership between the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and HSI. The ECT program focuses on human smuggling networks that may present national security or public safety risks, or grave humanitarian concerns. ECT has dedicated investigative, intelligence and prosecutorial resources. ECT coordinates and receives assistance from other U.S. government agencies and foreign law enforcement authorities.

HSI Yuma is investigating the case with assistance from the U.S. Border Patrol, CBP, ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, HSI Tijuana, Interpol and the HSI Human Smuggling Unit in Washington, D.C. HSI also received substantial assistance from CBP’s National Targeting Center/Counter Network Division and the Office of Foreign Assets Control. The Department of Justice thanks Mexican law enforcement, who were instrumental in arresting Hernandez-Salas, including substantial assistance provided by FESC.

JTFA Co-Director James Hepburn and Trial Attorney Patrick Jasperse of HRSP and Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Jennis for the District of Arizona are prosecuting the case, with significant assistance provided by the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.

The charges contained in an indictment are merely allegations. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of DHS, responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.