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July 6, 2022Phoenix, AZ, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

3 arrested on human smuggling charges following HSI Douglas, multiagency investigation

86 people from Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras discovered

PHOENIX – On June 30, three individuals were arrested and charged by complaint with conspiracy to harbor and transport noncitizens for profit following the execution of two search warrants resulting in the discovery of 86 undocumented individuals. The investigation in this case is being conducted by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Douglas, with assistance by HSI Sells and Phoenix offices, as well as Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) and U.S. Border Protection Tucson Sector.

The individuals arrested were identified as Jesus Gabriel Villela-Duran, 28, of Mexico, Salvador Lopez-Vargas, 36, of Mexico, and Eleazar Soto-Diaz, 34, of Mexico. Between the two residents in southwest Phoenix, nearly 100 individuals were identified as citizens from Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras – all waiting for further transport within the United States. Federal agents executed two search warrants resulting in the discovery of 79 undocumented individuals inside a house and an apartment at the Sundowner complex in Phoenix. An additional seven undocumented noncitizens were in a nearby vehicle driven by Lopez-Vargas; Gabriel Villela-Duran and Soto-Diaz were identified as caretakers of the residences.

While federal law enforcement gathered evidence and interviewed those detained, a 36-year-old Mexican national male was found to be wanted for a felony warrant out of Travis County, Texas, for aggravated sexual assault of a minor. The individual will be extradited to Texas.

A conviction for conspiracy to transport and harbor illegal aliens for profit carries a maximum penalty of 10 years, a maximum fine of $250,000, or both.

HSI Arizona continues to work vigorously alongside partner law enforcement agencies to address the serious public safety threat posed by human smugglers and their inhumane disregard for the health and safety of the people whom they exploit. This investigation was in support of the Cochise County Safe Streets initiative aimed at addressing the increased numbers of failure to yield incidents by human smuggling organizations in Arizona.

Those arrested as part of this investigation are presumed innocent until or unless proven otherwise in a court of law.

Members of the public who have information about this case, or any smuggling activity, are urged to call 1-866-347-2423 toll-free, internationally at 001-1802-872-6199, or complete the online tip form.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona is part of Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA), which was established by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in June 2021 to marshal the investigative and prosecutorial resources of the Department of Justice, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to enhance U.S. enforcement efforts against the most prolific and dangerous human smuggling and trafficking groups operating in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The Task Force focuses on disrupting and dismantling smuggling and trafficking networks that abuse, exploit, or endanger migrants, pose national security threats, and are involved in organized crime. JTFA consists of federal prosecutors and attorneys from U.S. Attorney’s Offices along the Southwest Border (District of Arizona, Southern District of California, Southern District of Texas, and Western District of Texas), from the Criminal Division and the Civil Rights Division, along with law enforcement agents and analysts from DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection. The FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration are also part of the Task Force.

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 over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 special agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States, and 80 overseas locations in 53 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.

Updated: 07/08/2022