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February 7, 2024El Paso, TX, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

Member of criminal organization pleads guilty to deadly kidnapping in El Paso

EL PASO, Texas — An El Paso man who served as a soldier in a transnational criminal organization pleaded guilty to kidnapping resulting in death following an investigation by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

The U.S. Border Patrol, the El Paso Police Department, the New Mexico State Police and the Texas Department of Public Safety assisted with the case.

According to court documents, Armando Leonardo Moreno aka Cholo, conspired with other TCO members on or around Sept. 13, 2021, to kidnap a subject from an El Paso stash house. The kidnappers drove the subject to another address, dragged him out of the vehicle and beat him in the front yard of the house before taking him inside and beating him further. On Sept. 16, 2021, the subject was found deceased in Las Cruces, New Mexico, with multiple gunshot and stab wounds.

Moreno faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. A federal district court judge will determine his sentence after considering the U.S. sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.

Co-defendant Michelle Karen Avila was previously sentenced to 120 months in prison, while co-defendant Ruben Pimentel was sentenced to 188 months. Co-defendants Alberto Rodriguez and Ricardo Matthew Gutierrez remain in federal custody awaiting sentencing.

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas Jaime Esparza made the announcement.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sarah Valenzuela and Ian Hanna are prosecuting the case.

These charges resulted from the coordinated efforts of Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA). The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas is part of the JTFA, 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. JTFA comprises detailees from U.S. attorneys’ offices along the Southwest border, including the Southern District of Texas, the Western District of Texas, the District of New Mexico, the District of Arizona and the Southern District of California. Dedicated support is also provided by numerous components of the Criminal Division that are part of JTFA, led by HRSP, and supported by ODPAT, the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, the Office of Enforcement Operations, OIA and the Violent Crime and Racketeering Section. JTFA also relies on substantial law enforcement investment from the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other partners. To date, JTFA’s work has resulted in over 270 domestic and international arrests of leaders, organizers, and significant facilitators of human smuggling; over 210 convictions; significant jail sentences imposed; and forfeitures of substantial assets.

For more information about HSI's mission to combat human smuggling, visit Human Smuggling | HSI.

To report suspicious smuggling activity, call 877-4-HSI-TIP (877-447-4847). For more information on HSI El Paso’s efforts to investigate human smuggling in West Texas and the state of New Mexico, follow us on X, formerly known as Twitter, @HSIElPaso.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of 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’ largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.