On Tuesday, extensive coordination and cooperation efforts between United States and Guatemalan law enforcement authorities culminated in the Guatemalan National Civil Police (PNC) conducting a significant enforcement operation to disrupt and dismantle a transnational human smuggling organization. This operation included the arrest of four alleged human smugglers who have been indicted in the United States.
On August 2, Guatemalan law enforcement executed 26 search warrants in Huehuetenango, El Quiché, Totonicapán, Alta and Baja Verapaz and arrested 19 individuals including the four U.S. fugitives. As a result of the search warrants, law enforcement recovered 10 high valued motor vehicles, firearms, and cash.
Felipe Diego Alonzo, aka “Siete”, 38; Nesly Norberto Martinez Gomez, aka “Canche”, 37; Lopez Mateo Mateo, aka “Bud Light”, 42; and Juan Gutierrez Castro, aka “Andres”, 45; were arrested in Guatemala at the request of the United States pursuant to charges previously filed in the Western District of Texas (WDTX) and unsealed yesterday. The defendants allegedly conspired with other smugglers to facilitate the travel of large numbers of migrants from Guatemala through Mexico, and ultimately, to the United States, charging the migrants and their families approximately $10,000 to 12,000 USD for the perilous journey. In addition to prolific smuggling of migrants to the United States, the human smugglers targeted in this operation are alleged to be responsible for the death of a young indigenous Guatemalan woman who died in Texas in April 2021. Guatemalan authorities arrested Diego Alonzo, Martinez Gomez, Mateo Mateo, and Gutierrez Castro pursuant to requests for their extradition by the United States.
The victim’s family paid the defendants approximately $10,000 for the journey to the United States. According to the indictment, the defendants and their co-conspirators guided her for several days through the desert to Odessa, Texas where she ultimately perished. Upon learning of her death, the defendants and their co-conspirators quickly worked to get rid of the body and discarded it on the side of a country road in Crane County, Texas. The defendants and their co-conspirators then arranged for payment to the victim’s family.
“Joint Task Force Alpha was created to investigate and prosecute the international networks responsible for dangerous and prolific human smuggling activities that exploit and victimize migrants,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “These indictments demonstrate the Department of Justice’s commitment to holding accountable criminal organizations that prey upon vulnerable people for profit. JTF Alpha’s dedicated personnel, along with our international law enforcement partners, are working tirelessly to disrupt and dismantle these harmful smuggling and trafficking networks.”
“These recent arrests are the culmination of over a year’s efforts of international coordination and investigation into this extensive human smuggling operation,” said U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff. “This specific criminal organization has smuggled a large number of migrants from Guatemala, which included a young woman who died while being smuggled, and whose body was later callously dumped by the smugglers in Crane County, Texas. Along with our partners, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas is committed to delivering justice for her and to holding all the offenders accountable for their crimes, including those members of the criminal organization who remain in Guatemala.”
“HSI is deeply immersed in the global fight against human smuggling, and that absolutely includes our International Operations within Central and South America,” said Steve Francis, acting executive associate director of Homeland Security Investigations. “Combating this horrific, transnational crime is one of our top priorities – our special agents are actively engaged with law enforcement partners and task forces around the globe working to dismantle criminal networks that treat human life like a commodity. We will continue to root out those engaged in this crime and bring alleged perpetrators, such as these four, to justice.”
“Transnational criminal organizations continue to recklessly endanger the lives of individuals they smuggle for their own financial gain with no regard for human life,” said CBP Deputy Commissioner Troy Miller. “CBP supports Joint Task Force Alpha through information sharing and analysis from its frontline personnel and CBP’s National Targeting Center. That coordination is essential in identifying transnational criminal organizations and bringing human smugglers to justice.”
The indictments against Diego Alonzo, Martinez Gomez, Mateo Mateo and Gutierrez Castro and assistance provided by U.S. authorities to Guatemala law enforcement were coordinated under Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA). JTFA was created by the Attorney General in June 2021 in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to strengthen the Department’s overall efforts to combat these crimes based on 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 El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico; targeted those organizations who have the most impact on the United States, and coordinated significant smuggling indictments and extradition efforts in U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country. To date, JTFA’s work with its partners has resulted in criminal charges and over a hundred domestic and international arrests, including against leaders, organizers and significant facilitators of human smuggling activities; several dozen convictions; significant jail sentences imposed; and substantial asset forfeiture. JTFA is comprised of detailees from southwest border U.S. Attorney’s Offices, including the Southern District of Texas, the Western District of Texas, the District of Arizona, and the Southern District of California, and dedicated support for the program is also provided by numerous components of the Criminal Division that are part of JTFA – led by the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP), and supported by the Office of Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and Training (OPDAT), the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section (NDDS), the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS), the Office of Enforcement Operations (OEO), the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs (OIA), and the Organized Crime and Gang Section (OCGS). JTFA is made possible by substantial law enforcement investment from DHS, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and other partners.
HSI Midland led U.S. investigative efforts, 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)’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, 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 Sherriff’s Offices. HRSP, OIA, and OPDAT provided significant assistance in this matter. The Department of Justice thanks Guatemalan law enforcement, who were instrumental in furthering this investigation.
The case is being handled by JTFA Deputy Director James Hepburn of HRSP, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Adrian Gallegos and Jose Luis Acosta of the WDTX and JTFA, and Assistant U.S. Attorney John Fedock of WDTX, with assistance from HRSP Historian/Latin America Specialist Joanna Crandall.
The charges contained in an indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.