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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

3 Mexican men sentenced in violent Phoenix hostage case

PHOENIX — Three Mexican men have each been sentenced to a decade or more in prison for their role in the operation of a violent Phoenix drop house where smuggled aliens were held hostage while the defendants sought to extort smuggling fees from the aliens' relatives.

The men were arrested in December 2012 following the rescue of the hostages by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Francisco Javier Astorga-Velarde, 23, and Jose Pedro Soto-Valdez, 24, were both sentenced Monday by U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton to 12 years in prison. Their co-defendant, Noel Galindez-Marmolejo, 33, was sentenced to 10 years. All three men pleaded guilty in August to using a firearm during a crime of violence. According to court documents, the men beat, pistol whipped and threatened to kill their hostages if their smuggling fees were not paid.

HSI special agents were first alerted to the drop house Dec. 5, 2012, after a woman contacted HSI Atlanta to report that a man was demanding she pay him $4,000 or he would kill her niece, who was allegedly being held hostage in a drop house in an unknown location in Phoenix. HSI Atlanta alerted HSI Phoenix special agents, who worked around the clock to develop information on the possible location of the drop house. By early Dec. 7, special agents had sufficient reason to believe the woman was being held in a residence in West Phoenix.

When special agents and officers from the Phoenix Police Department responded to the house, they observed the defendants fleeing out the back door. The defendants ran back inside after seeing police. Special agents approached the back door and called to the occupants of the house to come outside. The defendants complied and were taken into custody. Fearing for the safety of the people inside, special agents entered the home and discovered 14 smuggled aliens, including the niece of the woman who alerted authorities. Special agents subsequently obtained a federal search warrant for the residence and discovered two 9 mm handguns inside.