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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

2 Mexican nationals sentenced to years-long prison terms for alien smuggling

Arrest led to 29 smuggled individuals at drop house

HOUSTON - Two Mexican men were sentenced on Tuesday for their part in local alien smuggling activities. These sentences were announced by acting U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson, Southern District of Texas, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent in Charge Robert Rutt.

Lander Gonzalez-Lopez, 21, and Juvenal Barrera-Izquierdo, 26, both illegal aliens from Mexico, were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. to 46 and 57 months imprisonment, respectively, for conspiring to harbor and transport illegal aliens within the United States for financial gain. Barrera-Izquierdo was also sentenced to 57 months imprisonment for being an illegal alien possessing a firearm. Both individuals will be deported after they serve their sentences.

Both men were indicted together with Jesus Hernandez-Hernandez and Cristino Salazar-Cortes for conspiracy to harbor and transport illegal aliens within the United States for financial gain. They previously pleaded guilty to the offense, admitting their participation in the conspiracy which occurred in March 2008.

On March 19, ICE received a call from Houston Police Department regarding a woman who reported that her two brothers were being held in the Houston area by human smugglers and demanding a payment of $1,700 each to release each brother.

The woman went to ICE. While there, an undercover agent and the woman called to arrange a meeting with the smugglers, who agreed to meet at Bissonet and the Southwest Freeway in Houston. At the meeting, Barrera-Izquierdo told the undercover agent he had the brothers in the vehicle and said the smuggling fees were $3400 for both aliens. As ICE attempted an arrest, Barrera-Izquierdo and Salazar-Cortes fled from the vehicle, but were apprehended by ICE agents after a short foot pursuit. Barrera-Izquierdo possessed the cell phone that was used to call the woman. As Barrera-Izquierdo fled from the vehicle, agents observed a 9mm Glock pistol on the driver's seat.

The brothers told agents that when they left the residence where they were being held, there were additional aliens with three or four armed smugglers guarding them. The brothers led ICE agents to the 4900 block of Wickview in Houston. While watching the residence, ICE agents saw a Dodge Durango arrive. ICE Agents stopped the vehicle and apprehended Hernandez-Hernandez, the driver. Shortly afterwards, as agents approached the residence, four individuals attempted to flee from the rear of the residence. ICE agents apprehend three of the four subjects.

A search of the house led to the discovery of 29 illegal aliens and a 9mm pistol with a magazine loaded with six rounds. A second 9mm Glock magazine containing 10 rounds was also found at the house. ICE agents found several "pollo lists," (ledgers commonly used by alien smugglers), Western Union receipts for cash payments and cell phones inside the residence. Agents also found two chains the victims identified as fastened to their ankles to prevent their escape. A further check of the "pollo lists" matched some of the names of smuggled aliens being held at the location where they were subsequently arrested.

According to the brothers, they arrived at the stash house and provided smugglers with the telephone number of a relative who would pay their smuggling fees. When the smugglers attempted to call, the number was inoperable, which angered Barrera-Izquierdo and Hernandez-Hernandez to the point that they began to hit and punch one of the brothers in the face. After the assault, Hernandez-Hernandez threatened both of the brothers with death if they did not come up with a working telephone number. Salazar-Cortes then tied the two brothers together with chains that were later located in the stash house. While being transported to the buyout location, Barrera-Izquierdo instructed the brothers not to look up or they would be shot.

Co-conspirators Hernandez-Hernandez and Salazar-Cortez had also been convicted for their role in the conspiracy after entering guilty pleas and are scheduled for sentencing on Jan. 16 and Feb. 6, respectively.

This case was investigated by ICE, and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Davis, Southern District of Texas.