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Leader of human smuggling organization gets 10 years behind bars

Attorney General Merrick Garland said Tuesday that his Justice Department has obtained more than 240 human smuggling-related convictions. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Tuesday that his Justice Department has obtained more than 240 human smuggling-related convictions. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo

May 28 (UPI) -- The leader of a human smuggling organization, who illegally shipped more than 100 Hondurans to the United States, was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment on Tuesday, federal prosecutors said.

U.S. District Judge Raner Collins handed down the 120-month sentence plus three years' supervised release to Maria Mendoza-Mendoza, the 52-year-old woman who also went by the name of La Guera.

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Mendoza-Mendoza was accused of being the coordinator of a human smuggling organization that had co-conspirators throughout Central America, Mexico and the United States who worked together to facilitate the illegal entry, transport and harboring of migrants seeking to enter the United States.

The Justice Department indicted her in January 2018 and she was extradited to the United States from Honduras in June 2023.

In January, she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport illegal aliens for profit, and admitted that not only was she the leader of the organization who coordinated the smuggling and money laundering operations, but that she also threatened to "bleed out" a guide as punishment and called for a migrant to be thrown "back in the desert" if their family did not pay the fee.

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"This defendant exploited vulnerable migrants for her own profit, risking their lives and our national security in the process," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

According to federal prosecutors, Collins took several aggravating factors into consideration when handing down his sentence, including that the conspiracy oversaw the smuggling of unaccompanied minors, the use of firearms, creating a risk of death and the detention of migrants through coercion or threat for demand of payment.

"Human smuggling is an insidious crime and one that this defendant participated in over 100 times -- all for profit," Francisco Burrola, special agent in charge for HSI Arizona, said.

"Let this sentencing serve as a warning to other smugglers contemplating their continued participation -- prison awaits you."

Garland said in the three years of the Biden administration, his Justice Department has more than 240 conviction in connection to holding accountable "the most prolific and dangerous human smuggling groups."

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