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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Federal grand jury indicts 3 guards arrested at human smuggling drop house

LOS ANGELES - A federal grand jury Friday indicted three men for their role in a human smuggling operation that brought hundreds of illegal aliens from Central and South America to the United States and held them at a "drop house" until relatives could pay smuggling fees that ran as high as $13,000.

The indictment returned Friday afternoon alleges the three defendants were guards at a drop house in Lynwood, Calif., where illegal aliens were sometimes threatened with death if their smuggling fees were not quickly paid. The charges are the result of an ongoing investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The six-count indictment charges Gustavo Sanchez-Lopez, 30; Diego Martinez-Gonzalez, 28; and Francisco Moreno-Lopez, 55. The men all claim to be Mexican nationals, but are believed to be from Guatemala. They were arrested January 28 when authorities executed a search warrant at the drop house. At that time, investigators found 37 illegal aliens inside the house.

The indictment charges all three defendants with one count of conspiracy to harbor and conceal illegal aliens, and five counts of harboring and concealing illegal aliens for financial gain. According to the indictment, the men harbored approximately 336 illegal aliens at the home during a two-month period. The illegal aliens allegedly were threatened with beatings or death if their smuggling fees were not paid promptly.

"Human smuggling is a ruthless, violent enterprise that generates billions of dollars in illicit proceeds," said Miguel Unzueta, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Los Angeles. "ICE is working aggressively to target the criminals and criminal organizations involved in this dangerous trade who routinely put aliens' lives at risk."

The indictment specifically alleges that Martinez-Gonzalez told female smuggled aliens they would not be allowed to shower, or have blankets or jackets, unless they had sexual relations with him. Similarly, Sanchez-Lopez allegedly told female aliens they would be refused showers unless they had sexual relations with him.

According to the indictment, the three defendants acted as guards at the drop house, where they took turns overseeing the smuggled aliens, ensuring the aliens remained inside until their smuggling fees were paid.

The three defendants indicted Friday were previously ordered held without bond. They are scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday morning in U.S. District Court. Each of the men faces a statutory maximum penalty of 60 years in federal prison if convicted of all of the charges.