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Arrests deal ‘devastating blow' to transnational smuggling gang after migrant woman's death in Texas

KTSM El Paso logo KTSM El Paso 8/4/2022 Julian Resendiz
Arrests deal ‘devastating blow' to transnational smuggling gang after migrant woman's death in Texas © Provided by KTSM El Paso Arrests deal ‘devastating blow' to transnational smuggling gang after migrant woman's death in Texas

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Law enforcement officials have solved the death of an Indigenous Guatemalan woman last year in Crane County, Texas, and in the process have taken down the leaders of a ruthless international human smuggling organization.

The woman's family had paid smugglers $10,000 to transport her to the United States but, according to a federal indictment, walked her through the desert near Odessa, Texas, where she suffered from dehydration and eventually perished. The smugglers "worked to get rid of the body" by tossing it on the side of a farm road in Crane County, federal officials say. That happened in April 2021.

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On Thursday, Department of Justice officials and leaders of the international anti-smuggling unit Joint Task Force Alpha announced the indictments in the United States and the arrest in Guatemala of the leaders of the transnational criminal organization that allegedly sent her to her death.

Police in Guatemala surround a house in connection with the investigation of a transnational smuggling organization. (courtesy Ministerio Publico de Guatemala) © Provided by KTSM El Paso Police in Guatemala surround a house in connection with the investigation of a transnational smuggling organization. (courtesy Ministerio Publico de Guatemala)

"These indictments demonstrate the Department of Justice's commitment to holding accountable criminal organizations that prey upon vulnerable people for profit," said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr., of the Justice Department's Criminal Division.

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The detainees are 38-year-old Felipe Diego Alonzo, a.k.a "7"; 37-year-old Nesly Norberto Martinez Gomez, a.k.a "Canche"; 42-year-old Lopez Mateo Mateo, a.k.a. "Bud Light"; and 45-year-old Juan Gutierrez Castro, a.k.a. "Andres.” They were arrested in Guatemala at the request of the United States pursuant to charges previously filed in the Western District of Texas and unsealed this week.

Alonzo is the alleged leader of the smuggling organization, which U.S. officials say has been dealt a devastating blow.

A detainee who identified himself as Felipe Diego Alonzo is escorted on his property during a police raid against alleged migrant smugglers near the Mexican border in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. Police identified Alonzo as the leader. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) © Provided by KTSM El Paso A detainee who identified himself as Felipe Diego Alonzo is escorted on his property during a police raid against alleged migrant smugglers near the Mexican border in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. Police identified Alonzo as the leader. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

"The damage to this organization is extensive … (This) has taken down the top levels of this organization," said Frank Burrola, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in El Paso.

He said the investigation is ongoing and vowed that any individuals who assisted the criminal smuggling organization, either in the U.S., Guatemala or Mexico, would be brought to justice.

U.S. federal officials announce the arrests and indictments in an online news conference Thursday. (Department of Justice) © Provided by KTSM El Paso U.S. federal officials announce the arrests and indictments in an online news conference Thursday. (Department of Justice)
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The four defendants are facing extradition to the United States, which should take four to six months, federal officials said.

The government of Guatemala carried out the arrests of the four leaders and 15 alleged members of their gang. It also seized assets from the smuggling organization, including 10 vehicles, weapons and cash. Raids took place this week in homes in the Huehuetenango, Quiché, Totonicapán and Verapaz regions of Guatemala. The Justice Ministry and the National Civil Police published photos of the arrests and raids on social media, and local news outlets identified the transnational criminal organization as “Alfa Siete.”, 

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"The message is: You will be held accountable for your dangerous and often lethal criminality. The combined might of the United States and foreign partners will continue to prosecute you here and there. We will use every tool to do so," Polite said.

HSI led the investigation in Midland with assistance from the agency's Washington, D.C., and Guatemala City offices. The U.S. Border Patrol Big Bend Sector was also involved along with the sheriff's departments in Midland, Ector and Crane counties and numerous other federal and state agencies.

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