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June 23, 2023Albuquerque, NM, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

HSI El Paso spearheads tri-state human smuggling operation resulting in 10 indictments, 7 arrests

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Special agents with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) El Paso, in a collaborative effort with multiple law enforcement partners spanning three states, spearheaded an investigation resulting in 10 indictments and seven arrests on June 14.

HSI special agents assigned to HSI Deming led U.S. investigative efforts with assistance from HSI in Arizona and the Central District of California. HSI also received investigative assistance from U.S. Border Patrol agents in Deming and Lordsburg; Blythe and El Centro, California; and Yuma and Tucson, Arizona. U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center’s Operation Sentinel and the Montgomery (California) County Sheriff’s Department also participated in the case.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, as well as its Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, also provided support.

A federal grand jury returned an indictment on May 24, which was unsealed June 14. The indictment is a product of Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA).

According to the indictment and other court records, two citizens of Guatemala — Ronaldo Galindo Lopez-Escobar aka Tio Roni, 45, of Guatemala City, Guatemala, and his sister, Rosa Adriana Lopez-Escobar aka Tia Rosa, 38, of Phoenix — allegedly led the Lopez crime family, a transnational criminal organization principally involved in human smuggling with operations in Guatemala, Mexico and the United States.

The organization smuggled noncitizens into the United States using a series of coordinated transports, stash houses and directed electronic money transfers to avoid detection. Rosa Adriana Lopez-Escobar was arrested in Phoenix on June 14, and is detained pending further proceedings.

Ronaldo Galindo Lopez-Escobar’s family associates, who are alleged to have been involved in moving money through funnel bank accounts and through electronic money transfers on behalf of the organization, were also arrested. Deysi Marisela Lopez-Ambrosio, 25, was arrested in Long Beach, California. She is also a citizen of Guatemala.

Also arrested on June 14 in Arizona were Rosa Adriana Lopez-Escobar’s family and their close associates, who allegedly coordinated the transportation and harboring of the smuggled undocumented noncitizens: Jose Denilson Lopez-Chilel aka Andres, 24; Franklin Leonardo Chilel-Ramirez aka Arisona, 37; and Junior Vanegas-Portillo, 20. Each is a citizen of Guatemala.

If convicted, they each face up to 10 years in prison and some will be subject to removal from the United States.

Suny Diaz-Salguero, an associate of the Lopez family, was also arrested in a related in case in Los Angeles.

“We are grateful to our law enforcement partners for their invaluable contribution to the success of this tri-state enforcement action — a significant joint effort and victory against unscrupulous human smugglers,” said HSI El Paso Special Agent in Charge Francisco B. Burrola. “Criminal organizations, such as the Lopez crime family, not only jeopardize the safety and lives of the people on whom they prey for profit and greed; they also threaten the security of the United States. HSI remains steadfast in vigorously investigating and dismantling transnational criminal networks that pose a threat to our nation.”

JTFA was created by Attorney General Merrick Garland in June 2021 in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to strengthen the department’s overall efforts to combat these crimes based on the rise in prolific and dangerous smuggling emanating from Central America and impacting our border communities. JTFA’s goal is to disrupt and dismantle those human smuggling and trafficking networks operating in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, with a focus on networks that endanger, abuse or exploit migrants, present national security risks, or engage in other types of transnational organized crime.

Since its creation, JTFA has successfully increased coordination and collaboration between the Justice Department, DHS and other interagency law enforcement participants, and with foreign law enforcement partners, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico; targeted those organizations who have the most impact on the United States, and coordinated significant smuggling indictments and extradition efforts in U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country. To date, JTFA’s work with its partners has resulted in criminal charges and over a hundred domestic and international arrests, including against leaders, organizers and significant facilitators of human smuggling activities; several dozen convictions; significant jail sentences imposed; and substantial asset forfeiture. JTFA is comprised of detailees from Southwest Border U.S. attorney’s offices, including the New Mexico, the Southern District of Texas, the Western District of Texas, the District of Arizona, and the Southern District of California, and dedicated support for the program is also provided by numerous components of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division that are part of JTFA — led by the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, and supported by the Office of Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and Training; the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section; the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section; the Office of Enforcement Operations; the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs; and the Organized Crime and Gang Section. JTFA is made possible by substantial law enforcement investment from HSI, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and other partners.

The case is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Ramirez for the District of New Mexico. Assistant U.S. Attorney Shawn Nelson for the Central District of California and Stuart Zander for the District of Arizona provided critical support with fugitive location and search warrants.

The charges contained in an indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.