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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Final defendant sentenced in Phoenix hostage case

PHOENIX — The third and final defendant has been sentenced in a violent hostage case involving three Mexican men who held three smuggled aliens in a West Phoenix drop house while attempting to extort thousands of dollars from their family in Washington state.

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

Abel Donce de la Torre-Gonzalez, 34, of Mexico, was sentenced Monday by U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton to seven years in prison. He pleaded guilty Aug. 29 to using a firearm during a crime of violence.

His co-defendants Espiridion Pablo-Madrigal, 36, and Luis Bretado-Aragon, 19, also of Mexico, were sentenced in November to 10 ½ and six years in prison, respectively, for using a firearm during a crime of violence.

HSI special agents were alerted to the drop house May 13 after a caller contacted HSI Seattle to report that a man was demanding money or he would kill three of the caller's family members, who were being held in a Phoenix drop house. HSI Seattle alerted HSI Phoenix special agents, who worked around the clock to develop information on the possible location of the drop house. By the next morning, authorities had sufficient reason to believe the individuals were being held in a residence in West Phoenix.

When special agents and officers from the Phoenix Police Department responded to the house, they discovered the defendants and the caller's three family members. Special agents searched the residence and recovered a .357 Magnum.

According to court documents, the caller who contacted HSI told agents three of his family members had contracted with human smugglers to bring them from Mexico to Washington state. The caller told authorities he had wired money May 8 to the alien smugglers in Mexico, who advised him that his relatives were in transit to Arizona. Pablo-Madrigal allegedly then called the man demanding an additional $4,800 per person in ransom or he would "slit their throats and send pictures." Court documents also alleged the defendants kept the aliens locked in a bedroom with a boarded up window and threatened, hit and pushed them.