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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

2 Guatemalans sentenced for role in Arizona-based human smuggling scheme

Ringleader led operation from rural upstate New York

PHOENIX — Two Guatemalan men, one of whom worked on an upstate New York dairy farm, were sentenced in federal court March 17 for their roles in an organization that smuggled illegal aliens into the U.S. through Arizona and laundered the financial proceeds.

Joel Mazariegos-Soto, 29, the upstate New York-based leader of the organization, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton to 60 months in federal prison. His accomplice, Walfre David Perez-Jovel, 34, was sentenced to 46 months in prison. The pair pleaded guilty Dec. 17 to conspiracy to transport and harbor illegal aliens and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The sentence follows a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

According to court documents, Mazariegos-Soto led the human smuggling operation from rural Fonda, N.Y., where he also worked on a dairy farm. Mazariegos-Soto and his associates operated multiple human smuggling drop houses in the Phoenix area, including one dismantled by HSI Phoenix in October 2012 that contained more than 27 smuggled aliens, and another discovered by HSI Phoenix in Mesa in January 2013 that contained more than 40 smuggled aliens.

Mazariegos-Soto used an illegal "funnel" bank account to receive payments from individuals paying the group to smuggle their family members into the U.S. This account would then be accessed by members of the smuggling organization working in Phoenix. During just the four months of the investigation, authorities discovered Mazariegos-Soto laundered more than $70,000. He was arrested by HSI Albany special agents at his Fonda home in April 2013.

Perez-Jovel operated a human smuggling drop house in Phoenix and coordinated the transportation of smuggled aliens to various destinations around the U.S. Perez-Jovel dangerously overloaded smuggling vehicles, including transporting people inside the luggage compartments of minivans. HSI Phoenix special agents also discovered Perez-Jovel laundered more than $16,000 in smuggling proceeds. He was arrested June 11, 2013, near Lake Worth, Fla., by HSI West Palm Beach special agents after he fled from the Mesa drop house he operated in January 2013.