Smuggler sentenced to 5-year term

FONDA – A Guatemalan man who authorities said was working at an area farm while smuggling illegal aliens was sentenced Monday in federal court in Arizona to five years in federal prison.

According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona, Joel Mazariegos-Soto, 29, was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Phoenix. His co-defendant – Walfre David Perez-Jovel, 34, also of Guatemala – was sentenced to 46 months in federal custody.

The release said Mazariegos-Soto and his associate operated an illegal-alien smuggling business from the “assumed anonymity” of Fonda, where Mazariegos-Soto also worked on a dairy farm. The farm was not identified by authorities.

The co-defendants were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton after they pleaded guilty Dec. 17 to conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to transport and harbor illegal aliens. The release said the sentences were given “for their roles in laundering the proceeds of alien smuggling and harboring and transporting illegal aliens.”

Mazariegos-Soto was the “leader” of the alien smuggling organization, the release said. During four months of investigation, he laundered more than $70,000, federal authorities said. He laundered the money by moving it through an illegal “funnel” account, requiring families of illegal aliens in the United States to make deposits into a bank account, which would be accessed by his alien smugglers working in the Phoenix area, the release said.

Authorities said Mazariegos-Soto and his associates used multiple “stash houses” in the Phoenix area, including one discovered by agents with Homeland Security Investigations in October 2012 containing more than 27 illegal aliens and another found in January 2013 with more than 40 illegal aliens.

On April 18, 2013, HSI Albany agents arrested Mazariegos-Soto near his residence in Fonda.

Perez-Jovel operated a stash house in Phoenix on behalf of the illegal alien smuggling organization, authorities said. Under surveillance from HSI, agents witnessed him launder more than $16,000 in alien smuggling proceeds, the release said.

He not only harbored illegal aliens, but also coordinated the illegal transportation of undocumented people throughout the United States in a manner that was “reckless and dangerous” by overloading vehicles and loading people into the luggage compartments of vans to be moved across the United States, the release said.

The release said that on June 11, HSI agents in West Palm Beach, Fla., arrested Perez-Jovel near Lake Worth, Fla., after he fled from Mesa, Ariz., in January 2013 following an HSI interdiction of more than 40 illegal aliens from the stash house he operated in Mesa.

The investigation in this case was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations in Phoenix, West Palm Beach and Albany.

Prosecution was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristen Brook of the District of Arizona in Phoenix.

Brandon N. Cotto of Phoenix served as defense attorney for Mazariegos-Soto.

Neither Brook nor Cotto could be reached this morning for comment.