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Task force indicts, arrests alleged members of smuggling ring accused of migrant woman's death

Government of Guatemala released this image as part of alleged human smuggling ring bust.png
Government of Guatemala
Government of Guatemala released this image as part of alleged human smuggling ring bust

A joint task force on Thursday announced 19 arrests and four indictments in connection with the border smuggling death of a Guatemalan woman in Odessa, Texas, last year.

The dehydrated woman died in a stash house in May 2021. The ensuing investigation ranged from West Texas to Central America and involved local, state, federal, and Guatemalan authorities. It led to the arrests and the indictments, including those of the suspected ring leaders. Ten smuggling vehicles, firearms, and cash were also seized.

"The message to human smugglers is this: 'You will be held accountable for your dangerous and often lethal criminality,' " said Kenneth Polite Jr., an assistant U.S. attorney general, during a news conference at the San Antonio.

The press conference took place at the federal courthouse, home of the Western District of Texas. which includes Midland-Odessa.

The four indicted individuals will be extradited from Guatemala in six to eight months and face federal prosecution in Midland.

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 and unsealed on Wednesday.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. speaking during news conference on bust of alleged smuggling ring accused of Guatemalan woman's death

The defendants allegedly conspired with other smugglers to facilitate the travel of large numbers of migrants from Guatemala through Mexico and into the United States. They allegedly charged the migrants and their families approximately $10,000 to $12,000 for the perilous journey, federal prosecutors said.

They added that 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, where she ultimately perished.

Upon learning of her death, prosecutors claimed, 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, prosecutors added.

“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,” Polite said.

The indictments against Alonzo, Martinez Gomez, Mateo and Gutierrez Castro were the result of an investigation by Joint Task Force Alpha or JTFA.

A statement from federal officials explained that the U.S. attorney general created the unit in June 2021 to strengthen the government's overall efforts to combat the rise in dangerous smuggling emanating from Central America and affecting U.S. border communities.

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Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at brian@tpr.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian