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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Phoenix hostage taker sentenced to more than 21 years in prison

PHOENIX - A Mexican citizen was sentenced to more than 21 years in prison Tuesday following his guilty plea in a violent human smuggling case investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

David Alejo-Ortiz, 29, led a violent group of alien smugglers who, in May 2008, physically, verbally and sexually abused at least 23 hostages in Phoenix. This was not the first time Alejo-Ortiz had been linked to such activity. In 2010, Alejo-Ortiz was found guilty by a jury in Maricopa Superior Court in Arizona for kidnapping, extortion, aggravated assault, misconduct involving weapons and armed robbery. He was sentenced to 18 years in state prison. In both cases, victims were subjected to beatings and death threats. When sentencing the defendant, U.S. District Judge David G. Campbell noted that Alejo-Ortiz was the ringleader of a "violent, abusive enterprise" operating solely for financial gain.

Acting U.S. Attorney Ann Birmingham Scheel stated that, "Alejo-Ortiz's lengthy sentence serves to not only punish and deter such cruel activity, but also to protect the public from dangerous organizations that prey upon the vulnerabilities of immigrants."

"Targeting smugglers who prey on human beings is a top priority of ICE," said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Arizona. "Human smugglers have a callous disregard for the value of life. We will continue to aggressively pursue these types of alien smuggling cases, in which lives are jeopardized for personal profit."

Alejo-Ortiz is the last of five defendants to be sentenced in this case. Carlos Alvarez-Espinoza was convicted at trial and was sentenced to 137 years. Evaristo Ortiz-Jimenez, Jesus Corrales-Fernandez and Freddy Ovando-Ocana pleaded guilty and were sentenced to 25, 15 and 10 years respectively. Ortiz-Jimenez also pleaded guilty in Maricopa Superior Court in Arizona to kidnapping and sexual assault charges stemming from this case and was sentenced to 35 years in March 2010.