TUCSON, AZ – Two Mexican nationals convicted of being key conspirators in an Arizona-based human smuggling ring linked to multiple deaths have been sentenced to lengthy federal prison terms, following a multiagency probe spearheaded by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Fidel Mancinas-Franco, 51, of Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, and Jose Villela-Lopez, 53, of Cananea, Sonora, Mexico, were sentenced Wednesday to 96 and 120 months, respectively, by Chief U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins. The men previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bring in, transport, and harbor unauthorized aliens. Fernando Diaz-Gonzalez of Cananea, Sonora, Mexico, another co-defendant who played a lesser role in the conspiracy, previously pleaded guilty to the same charge and received a 48-month prison term. The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona.
Mancinas-Franco and Villela-Lopez were part of a large-scale human smuggling ring that brought migrants into the U.S. from Mexico, then transported those individuals and harbored them within the United States. Most of the ring’s clients hailed from Central and South America. The organization often transported the smuggled migrants using overloaded sport utility vehicles whose rear seats had been removed. On multiple occasions in 2009, large groups of migrants being smuggled by the ring were killed or injured as a result of this dangerous transportation method. On June 6, 2009, 11 migrants were killed during a rollover incident near Sonoita. The following month, on July 19, 2009, another group of 11 smuggled migrants were involved in a rollover crash in southern Arizona. The investigation revealed members of the human smuggling ring collected over $110,000 in smuggling fees, which Mancinas-Franco and Villela-Lopez were required to forfeit as part of the sentencing.
“The defendants participated in an alien smuggling ring that displayed callous disregard for the lives of the persons being smuggled,” said U.S. Attorney John S. Leonardo. “Yesterday’s lengthy sentences send a strong and unambiguous message that such conduct will not be tolerated and will be punished severely.”