EL PASO, Texas – An Ecuadorian couple remains in custody after appearing in federal court Wednesday following their arrest by special agents with Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Paul Esteban Estrella Villota, 40, and Magaly Alemania Malagon Sandoya, 42, were arrested Aug. 13 in Orlando, Florida, shortly after the couple arrived in central Florida on vacation. They were extradited Sept. 11 to El Paso to face federal charges for their alleged roles in an undocumented alien smuggling conspiracy.
The federal indictment, returned Sept. 9 and unsealed Wednesday, charges Estrella of Cuenca, Ecuador, and his wife, Malagon, with the following: conspiracy to commit alien smuggling for financial gain resulting in bodily injury; aiding and abetting bringing aliens into the United States without authorization for financial gain causing bodily injury; aiding and abetting bringing aliens without authorization for financial gain; conspiracy to commit alien smuggling for financial gain, and bringing aliens into the United States at a place other than a port of entry without authorization for financial gain.
On Nov. 4, 2013, HSI El Paso initiated an investigation into this smuggling organization after special agents encountered two juveniles in a suspected stash house. According to court documents, agents learned that Estrella and Malagon were the ring leaders of an alien smuggling organization that smuggled the juveniles into the United States.
Two days later, the mother of one of the young boys 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. Court records show that the woman told HSI special agents that the man who arranged for her 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 Nov.16, 2013, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Office of Border Patrol (OBP) agents encountered another national of Ecuador. This time the encounter was near Mount Cristo Rey in Sunland Park, New Mexico. During an interview with HSI special agents, the Ecuadorian citizen identified Estrella and Malagon as the smugglers with whom he entered into an agreement to be smuggled into the United States. Court records show he agreed to pay them $14,000.
On March 16, 2014, Border Patrol agents arrested another national of Ecuador near Clint, Texas, after she illegally entered into 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.
Furthermore, the young girl’s father told HSI special agents Feb. 25, 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.
Estrella and Malagon remain in federal custody pending a detention hearing set for Sept. 21.
Upon conviction, the defendants face a maximum of 20 in prison on each of the alien smuggling charges involving bodily injury; between three and 10 years imprisonment for aiding and abetting bringing aliens without authorization for financial gain; and, up to 10 years imprisonment on each of the remaining alien smuggling for financial gain charges.
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.
Assisting with the arrests were the following: HSI offices in Orlando, Panama and Ecuador, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Orlando, the National Targeting Center and CBP Office of Field Operations (OFO) and Border Patrol.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ian Hanna is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government. An indictment is merely a charge and should not be considered as evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.