Head Of Human Smuggling Operation Gets Decade In Prison

(NewsSpace.com) – Human smuggling is a serious, yet common crime. Those who are caught helping people gain illegal entry into a country end up facing lengthy prison sentences, and living in another nation doesn’t always protect them from prosecution. One Honduran woman found that out the hard way.

Maria Mendoza-Mendoza, also known as La Guera, was indicted in 2018 and then extradited from her home country, Honduras, to the United States in June 2023. At the time, she stood accused of “facilitating the illegal entry, transport, and harboring of numerous undocumented non-citizens,” and was said to be the head of the smuggling organization in question. Mendoza-Mendoza was charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, transportation of and harboring illegal aliens for profit, and conspiracy to transport and harbor illegal aliens for profit. She allegedly worked with co-conspirators in Central America, Mexico, and the United States to facilitate their entry into the US interior.

In January 2024, Mendoza-Mendoza pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport noncitizens for profit. Her sentencing was originally scheduled for April 2 but was pushed back to May 28.

On Tuesday, US District Judge Raner C. Collins sentenced La Guera to 10 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. Collins considered multiple factors, including the fact that the operation included unaccompanied minors, intentionally or recklessly creating a substantial risk of death, possessing a firearm, and detaining migrants and demanding payment. She’s accused of threatening to “bleed out” migrants or toss them into the desert to die if they or their families didn’t pay.

Multiple agencies were involved in the investigation and prosecution of Mendoza-Mendoza, including the Joint Task Force Alpha, created by Attorney General Merrick Garland to combat those who engage in the dangerous practice of human smuggling in Central America. Garland said that since President Joe Biden took office, the Justice Department has secured more than 240 such convictions.

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