September 11, 2008

Alien Smuggling Organization Dismantled

Last two members sentenced

LAREDO - Manuel Sandoval, 25, and Juan De Dios Jimenez, 39, have been sentenced for their roles in the smuggling of an undocumented alien that resulted in the alien's forced detention, United States Attorney Don DeGabrielle announced today. Sandoval, a Mexican national, and Jimenez, of Laredo, are the last two of the organization to be sentenced.

The charges against Sandoval and Jimenez are the result of efforts conducted Jan. 22, 2008, by FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents attempting to locate an undocumented alien being held against his will in and around Laredo, Texas. Relatives of the alien, who reside in New Mexico, reported to FBI that they paid an initial agreed smuggling fee of $800, but later received calls demanding an additional $4,000 be wired for the release of their relative. Smugglers threatened to kill the alien if the money was not received.

Through further investigation, ICE special agents located the recipient of the wire transfer, Alejandra Salazar, who worked for Sandoval's organization by picking up the money wired for smuggling fees. Agents subsequently located a residence on Mangana Hein Road where the alien had been held. Jimenez owned the residence and also worked for Sandoval in harboring the undocumented alien. Inside the residence, agents found the Mexican passport of the alien along with a handgun and ammunition. Investigation revealed that two juvenile members of the smuggling organization transported the alien to Jimenez's residence and kept him overnight in a locked room. The alien's hands were bound behind his back by the juveniles and he was made to kneel on tiled floor while smugglers contacted his family demanding payment for his release. During a series of phone calls, a gun was pointed at the alien while the alien begged his family to pay the ransom. The alien was repeatedly threatened and told that his dead body could be easily disposed in the surrounding land. Sometime during the late afternoon of Jan. 22, 2008, one of the smugglers entered the room, untied the aliens hands and told him to leave because people were looking for him. The alien found his way to the highway and located a convenience store from where he contacted his family about his release. ICE agents subsequently located him in the early hours of Jan. 23, 2008.

U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez sentenced Sandoval to 85 months in federal prison, finding Sandoval was as a leader of a smuggling organization that had been operating in Laredo. Sandoval was held responsible for utilizing a minor in the commission of the offense and for involuntarily detaining the alien in connection with a demand for payment and for using a weapon to effect the detention. Jimenez, in turn, was sentenced to 27 months for allowing the use of his residence for the involuntary detention of the alien. Following their imprisonment, Sandoval and Jimenez will be on supervised release for three years. Sandoval is subject to deportation due to his illegal status.

Two other defendants have already been sentenced for their involvement in this smuggling operation. A male juvenile involved in detaining and threatening the alien was sentenced to custody until age 18. Salazar was sentenced to approximately seven months and was subsequently deported from the country.

This case was investigated by special agents from ICE with the support of FBI Laredo and FBI New Mexico,and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Diana Song.

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Should the Texas State Legislature pass immigration enforcement laws in 2009?