Four Guatemalan nationals pleaded guilty to their involvement in a deadly Guatemala-based human smuggling conspiracy.
Juan Gutierrez Castro, aka Andres, 46, pleaded guilty today, joining co-conspirators Felipe Diego Alonzo, aka Siete, 39; Nesly Norberto Martinez Gomez, aka Canche, 38; and Lopez Mateo Mateo, aka Bud Light, 43, who all pleaded guilty in July.
According to court documents, the defendants admitted to conspiring with other smugglers to facilitate the travel of large numbers of migrants from Guatemala through Mexico, and ultimately, into the United States. They charged the migrants and their families approximately $10,000 to $12,000 for the perilous journey. One of the journeys resulted in the death of a young indigenous Guatemalan woman, who died in Texas in May 2021. The woman’s family had paid the defendants approximately $10,000 for the journey to the United States. The defendants and their co-conspirators guided her for several days on foot through the desert to Odessa, Texas, where she ultimately died. The defendants and their co-conspirators dumped her body on the side of a road in Crane County, Texas. The defendants and their co-conspirators then arranged to pay the victim’s family in Guatemala.
Each defendant pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to bring an alien to the United States resulting in death. They are expected to be sentenced later this year and face a statutory maximum penalty of life in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
As announced last year, extensive coordination between U.S. and Guatemalan law enforcement authorities led to the indictment and arrest of these four defendants, as well as the apprehension of 15 additional co-conspirators in Guatemala. Pursuant to an extradition request, in March 2023, Guatemalan authorities extradited Diego Alonzo, Martinez Gomez, Mateo Mateo, and Gutierrez Castro to the United States – the first ever extraditions from Guatemala to the United States on charges of human smuggling resulting in death and the first Guatemalan human smuggling extraditions to the United States in nearly five years.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Jaime Esparza for the Western District of Texas, and Executive Associate Director Katrina W. Berger of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) made the announcement.
HSI Midland led the investigation, working in concert with HSI Guatemala and the HSI Human Smuggling Unit in Washington, D.C. HSI received substantial assistance from U.S. Immigration and Customs (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations; ICE’s Parole and Law Enforcement Programs Unit; U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center/Operation Sentinel; U.S. Border Patrol; the U.S. Marshals Service; the Odessa and Midland Police Departments; the Texas Department of Public Safety; and the Ector County, Midland County, and Crane County Sheriffs’ Offices. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs (OIA) and Office of Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and Training (OPDAT) provided significant assistance in this matter. The Justice Department is grateful to Guatemalan law enforcement, who were instrumental in furthering this investigation.
The indictments, extraditions, and convictions of Diego Alonzo, Martinez Gomez, Mateo Mateo, and Gutierrez Castro, as well as the assistance provided by U.S. authorities to Guatemalan law enforcement, were coordinated under Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA).
JTFA Co-Director James Hepburn of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP), Assistant U.S. Attorney Jose Luis Acosta for the Western District of Texas, and Assistant U.S. Attorney John Fedock for the Western District of Texas are prosecuting the case, with substantial assistance from Assistant U.S. Attorney Adrian Gallegos for the Western District of Texas and HRSP Historian/Latin America Specialist Joanna Crandall.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland created JTFA in June 2021 in partnership with DHS to strengthen the Justice Department’s overall efforts to combat the rise in prolific and dangerous smuggling emanating from Central America and impacting our border communities. JTFA’s goal is to disrupt and dismantle those human smuggling and trafficking networks operating in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, with a focus on networks that endanger, abuse or exploit migrants, present national security risks, or engage in other types of transnational organized crime. Since its creation, JTFA has successfully increased coordination and collaboration between the Justice Department, DHS, and other interagency law enforcement participants, and with foreign law enforcement partners, including in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico; targeted those organizations who most significantly impact the United States; and coordinated significant smuggling indictments and extradition efforts in U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country. To date, JTFA’s work has resulted in over 200 domestic and international arrests of leaders, organizers, and significant facilitators of human smuggling; several dozen convictions; significant jail sentences imposed; and substantial asset forfeiture.
JTFA is comprised of detailees from southwest border U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, including the Southern District of Texas, the Western District of Texas, the District of New Mexico, the District of Arizona, and the Southern District of California. Dedicated support for the program is also provided by numerous components of the Criminal Division that are part of JTFA, led by HRSP, and supported by ODPAT, the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, the Office of Enforcement Operations, OIA, and the Organized Crime and Gang Section. JTFA also relies on substantial law enforcement investment from DHS, FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and other partners.