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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Mexican man sentenced to 15 years following fatal desert smuggling incident

TUCSON, Ariz. — A Mexican man was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison April 28 for his role in a human smuggling attempt that resulted in the death of two people from heat exposure in the Arizona desert. The sentence follows an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Marcos Soto-Mendoza, 43, of Tonalisco, Nayarit, Mexico, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Cindy K. Jorgenson. Following the prison term, Soto-Mendoza will be subject to three years of supervised release. He was convicted by a federal jury April 12 on five counts of bringing in an illegal alien for profit.

According to court documents, Soto-Mendoza was initially encountered by U.S. Border Patrol agents on June 29, 2011, after they responded to a citizen's call regarding a distressed border crosser, later identified as Abad Uriostegui-Uriostegui, in the Village of Pisinemo on the Tohono O'odham Nation. Uriostegui-Uriostegui told Border Patrol agents that he had illegally entered the U.S. with a group of five other people who were also in distress in the desert. Agents responded to the scene where Uriostegui-Uriostegui had last seen the group and found Soto-Mendoza with two extremely dehydrated men, later identified as Juan Delgado and Marcos Mojica-Lagunas. Agents also discovered that two other members of the group had already died from exposure in the extreme summer heat.

The surviving men told authorities that Soto-Mendoza served as the foot guide for the group, and that they had each paid him between $2,200 and $2,500 to guide them across the U.S. border. Soto-Mendoza informed the group several times after crossing the border that the group would be resupplied with water at a ranch. However, he never led them to a water source and they became dehydrated. The men also told authorities that one of the deceased members had asked to use Soto-Mendoza's cell phone to call for help, but he refused to allow her to use the phone.