EL PASO, Texas — A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced an Ecuadorian couple to federal prison for their roles in an illegal alien smuggling conspiracy uncovered during an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone sentenced Paul Esteban Estrella Villota, 40, of Cuenca, Ecuador, and his wife Magaly Alemania Malagon Sandoya, 42, to six years and five years in federal prison, respectively. Judge Cardone also ordered both defendants each to pay a $5,000 special assessment and be placed on supervised release for three years after they the complete their prison terms.
Earlier this year, both defendants pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit alien smuggling for financial gain resulting in bodily injury, which included a smuggled girl being repeatedly raped by her smugglers. Estrella and Malagon have remained in federal custody since HSI special agents arrested them Aug. 12, 2015, in Orlando, Florida.
The investigation into this smuggling organization began Nov. 4, 2013, after HSI El Paso special agents encountered two male juveniles in a suspected stash house. According to court documents, HSI special agents learned that Estrella and Malagon were the ring leaders of an alien smuggling organization that smuggled juveniles into the United States.
The investigation revealed that Nov. 22, 2012, a co-defendant, Diana Marcial, 25, smuggled a 2-year-old El Salvadoran child through El Paso’s Bridge of the Americas Port of Entry as an identity imposter. Marcial used her own child's birth certificate to facilitate the smuggling. When the toddler’s mother, Wendy Heredia-Mejia, was arrested attempting to enter the United States as an identity imposter, Heredia-Mejia identified Marcial as the individual who had crossed with her son.
HSI special agents contacted Marcial, who returned the child to law enforcement agents. As a result, Marcial was convicted of making a false statement to authorities about the legal status of the child she brought into the United States claiming to be her own. She was sentenced to a year of probation and six months’ home confinement.
On Nov. 6, 2013, a 35-year-old mother of one of the juveniles discovered by HSI El Paso special agents two days earlier, was arrested at the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry after she tried to enter the United States as a document imposter. The entry document she presented at the border was valid, but was in the name of another person. Arnulfo Delgado Salas, 46, a co-defendant, was the driver of the vehicle in which she was a passenger. Salas, who was later arrested, was set to plead guilty in May 2016 to making a false statement, but absconded prior to his sentencing hearing. He is considered a fugitive.
Court records show that the man who arranged for the 35-year-old mother and her child to be smuggled into the United States was a man she met in Ecuador. The man, whom she knew as “Paul,” charged her $15,000 each to smuggle her and her child. She paid him $6,000 up front. The woman positively identified Estrella as the man to whom she paid the smuggling fee. On March 28, 2014, she was sentenced to time served (just over five months’ incarceration) after pleading guilty to false impersonation in an immigration matter.
On March 16, 2014, U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested another national of Ecuador near Clint, Texas, after she illegally entered the United States. Court records allege she told HSI special agents that a woman by the name of “Magi” arranged her smuggling travels from Ecuador to the United States, even though an Ecuadorian smuggler named “Paul” originally was to bring her to the United States.
On Nov. 16, 2014, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Border Patrol agents encountered another national of Ecuador near Mount Cristo Rey in Sunland Park, New Mexico. During an interview with HSI special agents, that individual identified Estrella and Malagon as the smugglers with whom he entered into a smuggling agreement to bring his daughter into the United States. Court records show he agreed to pay them $14,000.
Furthermore, the girl’s father told HSI special agents on Feb. 25, 2015, that he made arrangements to pay $14,500 to a smuggler he knew only as “Magi” to smuggle his daughter from Ecuador through Mexico into the United States.
While in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, the girl was kept in a stash house by Estrella and Malagon’s co-conspirators. At that stash house, these co-conspirators repeatedly raped her before dropping her off in Mexico immediately south of Clint, Texas.
Waldemar Rodriguez, special agent in charge of HSI El Paso, credited the team effort of other Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agencies locally and abroad that participated in the investigation.