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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Leader of Houston human smuggling conspiracy sentenced to 97 months in prison

HOUSTON — The leader of a local human smuggling organization and three others have been sentenced for their roles in a conspiracy to transport or harbor undocumented aliens, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Lenyn Acosta, 33, was sentenced Friday by U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon to 97 months in federal prison. Judge Harmon accepted all the guilty pleas in the case, finding that Acosta was the organizer and leader of an ongoing and extensive conspiracy involving hundreds of undocumented aliens, including juveniles. Judge Harmon also found Acosta caused serious bodily injury to a female alien he harbored by sexually assaulting her during the course of the conspiracy. At the hearing June 6, the female victim testified about the impact the crime has had on her life.

"Those responsible for the illegal smuggling of those not authorized to be in the United States place personal profit ahead of public safety," said Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of HSI Houston. "The results of this case should remind those involved in this dangerous trade that their actions come with a price."

Additionally, four others were ordered to prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to transport aliens: Debora Baldizon, 37, of Nicaragua; and Maurisio Hernandez-Chinchilla, 32 and Franklin Gutieres, 33, both of Honduras.

Baldizon and Hernandez-Chinchilla were sentenced June 6 to respective terms of 30 and 12 months in prison. Gutieres was sentenced May 23 to a 12-month term of imprisonment.

As illegal aliens, all are expected to face deportation proceedings following their release from prison.

The investigation began in July 2012 after HSI special agents received information that Acosta was involved in organizing temporary housing for aliens smuggled to Houston. He then coordinated their transportation by means of motor vehicle to different locations throughout the United States.

In May 2014, Hernandez-Chinchilla and Gutieres were arrested in connection with arranging the transportation of eight undocumented aliens. Agents later executed a search warrant at a Houston residence that was being used by Acosta and his conspirators to stash aliens awaiting transportation. Agents encountered 13 additional undocumented aliens at the residence.

All four defendants will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Casey N. MacDonald, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted the case.