The U.S. Department of Justice and its partners today announced a major enforcement action that disrupted and destroyed a prolific people-smuggling operation in Texas and the southern United States. The operation, part of Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA), included the arrest of eight suspected people smugglers whose indictments were unsealed today in the Southern District of Texas (SDTX).
“More than a year ago, we launched Joint Task Force Alpha to strengthen our efforts across the government to dismantle the most dangerous human smuggling and trafficking networks,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland) said. “The charges announced today are just the latest example of the success of these efforts. The Department of Justice will continue to devote all of our resources to fighting people smuggling and trafficking rings that endanger our communities, abuse and exploit immigrants, and threaten our national security.”
Erminia Serrano Piedra aka Irma and Boss Lady, 31, led the people-smuggling operation. Other defendants include Kevin Daniel Nuber aka Captain, 41; Laura Nuber aka Barbie, 40; Lloyd Bexley, 51; Jeremy Dickens, 45; Katie Garcia aka Guerra, 39; Olivilia Piedra-Campsana, 53; and Pedro Hairo Abrigo, 33. All were arrested in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, according to charges previously filed in SDTX and unsealed today.
According to the indictment, they facilitated the illegal transportation and movement of immigrants within the United States under harsh conditions for profit. The migrants are said to be citizens of Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia. The immigrants or their families allegedly paid members of people-smuggling groups to help them travel illegally to and within the United States.
Criminal people-smuggling groups allegedly use drivers to pick up migrants near the U.S.-Mexico border and transport them to the U.S. interior, according to the indictment. They are said to often harbor migrants in “hides” in places like Laredo and Austin, Texas, along the way. Drivers allegedly used a variety of methods to transport migrants, including hiding them in suitcases placed on pickup trucks and stuffing migrants in tractor trailers, pickup truck covered beds, repurposed water tanks or strapped to flatbeds on a wooden crate on a trailer. The methods used by the people-smuggling group to transport migrants are said to put their lives at risk because they are often held in closed spaces with poor ventilation and no temperature control, and in conditions that put them at great risk Down. The group’s drivers allegedly paid up to $2,500 for each migrant they transported illegally.
The indictment also mentions criminal forfeitures of three properties and monetary judgments in the amount of $2,299,152.40.
“This people-smuggling organization is large and highly valued for economic profit while putting immigrant lives at great risk,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr., of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “JTFA will continue to use all necessary means to hunt down and destroy criminal smuggling networks and protect the vulnerable people they exploit.”
Jennifer B. Lowery, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, said: “Sadly, this case is an example that we have seen so many times in our Our frontier communities.” “Our Laredo office is constantly working with our valued partners to bring to justice those who allegedly put profit above everything else. No amount of money can replace human beings. life.”
“At DHS, combating people smuggling is a moral imperative, a law enforcement priority, and a necessity for our national security,” said Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security John K. Tien. “This is at the heart of our efforts to address irregular migration in the Western Hemisphere and to hold accountable for the vile and horrific crimes perpetrated by transnational criminal organizations. We are steadfast in delivering on our commitments and sending a strong message: If you manipulate, Harm and exploit migrants in distress, and we’re here for you. This investigation is a perfect example of how we’re bringing our agencies and components together to do just that with the full power of the federal government.”
“Transnational criminal organizations often use sophisticated evasion techniques to facilitate their smuggling and trafficking operations,” said PJ Lechleitner, Acting Deputy Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “Agents of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) employ a full range of law enforcement techniques and cross-border authorities to combat human smuggling by effectively removing profit incentives, seizing assets, and maintaining strong partnerships with law enforcement partners across the country and around the world. Today should be reminded As a matter of fact, if you are going to engage in this type of criminal activity, your criminal network is not invisible. Members of the group will be exposed, the network will be taken down, and you will be brought to justice.”
“People smugglers are criminals who don’t care about human life,” said U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Deputy Commissioner Troy Miller. “They lie to make money, persuading vulnerable immigrants to hand over their often life savings in exchange for a short trip to the U.S. Commitment. Smugglers often leave migrants without food or water to die in deserts or mountains. CBP strives to be flexible, adaptable and think outside the box when it comes to disrupting these criminal organizations and protecting migrants from harm.”
The prosecution of these defendants was brought under the JTFA. Attorney General Garland created JTFA in June 2021 in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security to enhance the department’s overall efforts to combat the dangerous rise in human smuggling from Central America and impact our border communities. JTFA’s goal is to disrupt and dismantle human smuggling and trafficking networks operating in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, with a focus on harming, abusing, or exploiting migrants, presenting national security risks, or engaging in other types of transnational organized cybercrime.
Since its inception, JTFA has successfully enhanced coordination and cooperation between DOJ, DHS, and other interagency law enforcement actors and foreign law enforcement partners, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico; targeting those with the greatest impact on the United States organization; and coordinates major smuggling prosecutions and extradition efforts at U.S. Attorney’s offices across the country. To date, JTFA’s work with its partners has resulted in criminal charges and more than 100 domestic and international arrests, dozens of convictions, significant incarceration and substantial asset forfeitures against leaders, organizers and key facilitators of people-smuggling operations.
The JTFA is composed of detailed personnel from the U.S. Attorney’s Office at the Southwest Frontier, including the Southern District of Texas, the Western District of Texas, the New Mexico District, the Arizona District, and the Southern District of California, and is dedicated to supporting the program Judicial These are also provided by many components of the Ministry’s Criminal Division, which are part of the JTFA – led by the Human Rights and Special Prosecution Section (HRSP) and supported by the Office of Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT), Narcotics and The Office of Dangerous Goods supports the Drugs Section (NDDS), Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS), Office of Law Enforcement Operations (OEO), Office of International Affairs (OIA) and Organised Crime and Gangs Section (OCGS). JTFA is made possible by substantial law enforcement investments by DHS, FBI, the US Drug Enforcement Administration, and other partners.
HSI Laredo led the U.S. investigation in conjunction with CBP’s U.S. Border Patrol Laredo Division and DHS-OIG, with substantial assistance from HSI’s offices in Austin, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi, Texas; Louis New Orleans, Ana; Gulfport, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; West Palm Beach, FL; and its people-smuggling unit in Washington, D.C.; together with CBP’s National Targeting Center; and Relocation Operations – Austin; Police Departments in Laredo, Killeen, and Round Rock, Texas; Wiggins, Missouri; and Bogaloosa, Louisiana; Webb County Police Department, Texas; Webb County, Texas District Attorney’s Office; Sheriff’s Offices in Webb, Texas, Bastrop and Caldwell Counties, George County, Harrison County, and Stone County, Mississippi; Louisiana The Diocese of Jefferson and Washington, NY; and the Mississippi Drug Administration; and the Louisiana Police Department.
Erin Cox and Christian Levesque, Trial Attorneys, Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, DOJ; Jennifer Day, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas and JTFA; Paul Harrison, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas; Trial Attorney Daria Andryushchenko and Financial Investigator Kelly O’Mara of the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section handled the case with substantial assistance from the Department of Justice’s Office of Enforcement Operations Electronic Surveillance Unit.
The allegations contained in the indictment are merely allegations. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in court.