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Date: 05-28-2024

Case Style:

United States of America v. Maria Mendoza-Mendoza

Case Number: 2:20-cr-212

Judge: Richard F. Boulware

Court: The United States District Court for the District of Arizona

Plaintiff's Attorney: The United States Attorney’s Office in Phoenix.

Defendant's Attorney:

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Washington, DC criminal defense lawyer represented the Defendant charged with Migrant Smuggling

Honduras-Based Leader of Migrant Smuggling Organization Sentenced

The leader of a migrant smuggling organization was sentenced today to 10 years in prison for her role in smuggling over 100 migrants from Honduras to the United States for profit.

“Today’s sentencing is the latest example of the great work of Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA), which we launched nearly three years ago to hold accountable the most prolific and dangerous human smuggling groups, and which has obtained more than 240 convictions to date,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “This defendant exploited vulnerable migrants for her own profit, risking their lives and our national security in the process. Together with our partners across the federal government, the Justice Department will continue our efforts to dismantle and disrupt human smuggling networks like those the defendant operated.”

“Today’s sentencing again highlights the extraordinary work being done by our Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel who, day in and day out, are relentless in their mission to disrupt and dismantle dangerous smuggling operations and to secure our border,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “This sentencing is a testament to the partnership and collaboration this Administration has strengthened across the federal enterprise, and with our allies in countries such as Honduras and Mexico, to crack down on criminal organizations. We will continue our work alongside our federal, state, and local partners to attack the ruthless smuggling operations that prey on the vulnerable and cause so much death and trauma.”

“Cooperation and collaboration are key tools in protecting America from the reach of international human smuggling organizations,” said U.S. Attorney Gary Restaino for the District of Arizona. “We thank Honduras for its willingness to extradite, the various local agencies who interdicted migrants and helped us make the connection to a larger organization, and all of the JTFA partners for dismantling a smuggling network.”

According to court documents, Maria Mendoza-Mendoza, also known as La Guera, 52, of Honduras, coordinated the movement of migrants from Honduras to the U.S.-Mexico border and to stash houses operated in Phoenix, Arizona, where the migrants would be detained until their smuggling fees were paid. The smuggling organization utilized funnel accounts to collect millions of dollars in smuggling fees. Mendoza-Mendoza exercised her authority within the organization to assess punitive sanctions—she threatened to “bleed out” a guide as punishment and demanded that a migrant whose family did not pay his smuggling fee be thrown “back in the desert.”

“Human smuggling is an insidious crime and one that this defendant participated in over 100 times—all for profit,” said Special Agent in Charge Fransisco B. Burrola of HSI Arizona. “Human smugglers do nothing but prey on vulnerable people who at times pay with their lives while crossing the border. Smugglers endanger and exploit people by using dangerous networks that threaten the safety of our communities and our national security; HSI is committed to combatting this type of cross border crime along with our partner law enforcement agencies. Let this sentencing serve as a warning to other smugglers contemplating their continued participation—prison awaits you.”

Mendoza-Mendoza was indicted in January 2018 and extradited from Honduras to the United States in June 2023. Mendoza-Mendoza pleaded guilty on Jan. 24 to conspiracy to transport illegal aliens for profit.

This prosecution resulted from the coordinated efforts of JTFA, which was established by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in June 2021 to marshal the investigative and prosecutorial resources of the Justice Department, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to enhance U.S. enforcement efforts against the most prolific and dangerous human smuggling and trafficking groups operating in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The task force focuses on disrupting and dismantling smuggling and trafficking networks that abuse, exploit, or endanger migrants, pose national security threats, and are involved in organized crime. Since its creation in June 2021, JTFA has achieved significant results, including 305 arrests, including against leaders, organizers, and significant facilitators; 242 U.S. convictions; 175 U.S. defendants sentenced, including significant jail sentences imposed; substantial seizures and forfeiture of assets and contraband, including hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, real property, vehicles, firearms and ammunition, and drugs; multiple indictments and successful extradition requests against foreign leadership targets.

HSI Sells Office investigated the case, with significant assistance from the U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector and numerous state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the country. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs worked with law enforcement partners in Honduras to secure the arrest and extradition of Mendoza-Mendoza. The U.S. Marshals Service assisted with the extradition efforts.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for District of Arizona prosecuted the case.


Defendant was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison

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