Skip to main content
June 14, 2023Sells, AZ, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

HSI Sells case sends human smuggling ringleader to prison for 96 months

TUCSON, Ariz. — During the first full week of June, a federal judge sentenced a Mexican national to 96 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for his management role in a criminal conspiracy to harbor and transport thousands of undocumented noncitizens. Manuel Ochoa-Vasquez, 39, of Paso Hondo, Mexico, pleaded guilty on Dec. 15, 2022, to conspiracy to transport illegal aliens for profit and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Sells and the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division investigated the case.

“As this lengthy sentence makes clear, those who seek to exploit people in such a shameful way will face serious consequences themselves,” said HSI Arizona Special Agent in Charge Scott Brown. “Smugglers view their ‘clients’ as nothing more than walking bags of cash — they have no qualms about collecting additional smuggling fees.”

HSI special agents conducted a yearlong, court-approved wiretap after discovering that smugglers were bringing people from the United States border to a mechanic’s shop and several residences in the Phoenix area. While executing search warrants, officials found 54 undocumented noncitizens in a primary stash house operated by Ochoa-Vasquez and his co-conspirators. Smugglers held people at the stash house until their smuggling fees were paid.

Wire communications revealed that Ochoa-Vasquez and his co-conspirators sometimes threatened their victims’ families or sponsors if the smuggling fees were late.

HSI special agents located guns, ammunition and over $1.4 million in cash while searching the residences of Ochoa-Vasquez and his co-conspirator, Carlos Barron-Arredondo. Officials recovered ledgers that documented more than 7,000 human smuggling events, and officials discovered that the conspirators laundered the money they made from the smuggling operations.

A federal judge sentenced Barron-Arredondo to 57 months in prison followed by 36 months of supervised release. The remaining 13 co-conspirators, all of whom pleaded guilty and had various levels of culpability in the organization, received sentences ranging from time served to as much as 63 months in prison.

Joint Task Force Alpha’s coordinated efforts contributed to the prosecution. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona is part of the task force, which was established by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in June 2021 to marshal the investigative and prosecutorial resources of the Department of Justice, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security, to enhance U.S. enforcement efforts against the most prolific and dangerous human smuggling and trafficking groups operating in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The Task Force focuses on disrupting and dismantling smuggling and trafficking networks that abuse, exploit or endanger migrants, pose national security threats, and are involved in organized crime.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona in Tucson prosecuted the case.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.