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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Mexican 'bandit' sentenced to 70 years for hostage taking, weapons crimes

TUCSON, Ariz. – A Mexican man was sentenced in federal court Wednesday to 70 years in prison for his role leading a bandit "rip" crew that preyed on illegal border crossers in the mountains of southern Arizona. The sentence follows a joint investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Border Patrol.

Isabel Perez-Arellanez, 43, of Guasave, Sinaloa, Mexico, was convicted Nov. 21 by a federal jury of three counts of hostage taking, one count of conspiracy to commit hostage taking, four counts of possession of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, and one count of illegal alien in possession of a firearm.

"This man thought he could use the rugged mountains of southern Arizona as a place to conduct violent crimes out of reach of the rule of law. Thanks to the dedicated work of the U.S. Border Patrol agents who arrested him and the HSI special agents who investigated this case, he will now spend decades in a federal prison," said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of HSI Arizona. "Finding and bringing these modern-day bandits to justice is a top priority for HSI and our law enforcement partners."

According to court documents, in March 2012, Perez-Arellanez and his two partners encountered three illegal border crossers who had become lost and separated from their smuggling group in Arizona's remote Tumacacori Mountains, located approximately 50 miles south of Tucson.

Perez-Arellanez held the three victims at gun point for more than two days, forcing them to contact their family members living in the U.S. in an effort to extort money from them. Once the victims' family members wired between $900 and $1,500 to Perez-Arellanez's Western Union account in Mexico, Perez-Arellanez abandoned them in the desert without food or water.

Eventually, the three victims made their way to Interstate 19, where they reported the crime to U.S. Border patrol agents who encountered them. Border Patrol agents responded to the scene of the incident and found a loaded 9mm pistol and the victims' personal belongings.

"This prosecution and sentence demonstrate that armed defendants who prey on vulnerable border crossers will be apprehended and will face severe consequences for their actions," said John S. Leonardo, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona.

HSI was assisted in the investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).