Two Guatemalans plead guilty to human smuggling charges in 2021 death of migrant in Odessa

Published: Sep. 30, 2022 at 1:18 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON, D.C (KOSA) - On Thursday, Guatemalans Armando Gael-Galicia aka Artemio Diego Andres Gonzalez and Luis Moreno-Gonzalez, 26, and Jose Diego Tercero-Gonzalez, 22, both of whom resided in Texas, pleaded guilty in federal court in the Western District of Texas to conspiracy to transport and harbor aliens for financial gain and resulting in death.

At sentencing, each will face a statutory maximum penalty of life in prison.

In early May 2021, the body of a young Guatemalan woman was found in a remote area just outside of Odessa, Texas. On Aug. 23, 2021, Gael-Galicia and Tercero-Gonzalez were arrested in or near 910 Coyochic Avenue in Odessa, which was the location of the trailer where the victim was taken and died. Inside the trailer were additional migrants who had entered the country illegally, detailed ledgers, and more than 100 cell phones. Pursuant to their guilty pleas, the defendants admitted that they operated a prolific smuggling organization and were responsible for the transportation of the migrant who died.

This investigation is related to the recent indictment and arrests of 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; in Guatemala in August 2022. Those defendants allegedly conspired with other smugglers to facilitate the travel of large numbers of migrants from Guatemala through Mexico, and ultimately, to the United States, charging the migrants and their families approximately $10,000 to $12,000 for the journey.

In addition to smuggling of migrants to the United States, the human smugglers targeted in the August 2022 operation are alleged to be responsible for the death of the same Guatemalan woman transported by Gael-Galicia and Tercero-Gonzalez.

Guatemalan authorities arrested Diego Alonzo, Martinez Gomez, Mateo Mateo, and Gutierrez Castro pursuant to requests for their extradition by the United States.

“Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA) was created to investigate and prosecute the international networks responsible for dangerous human smuggling activities that exploit and victimize migrants,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Through extensive coordination with our U.S. Attorney’s Office and law enforcement partners, yesterday’s guilty pleas emphasize JTFA’s comprehensive mission to leave no stone unturned in its efforts to hold accountable all those who treat human life like a commodity.”

U.S. Attorney Ashley Hoff said agencies joined together to get the guilty pleas.

“I am incredibly thankful for the collaborative law enforcement efforts that resulted in these guilty pleas,” said U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff for the Western District of Texas. “Not only are they indicative of joint efforts to hold callous human smugglers accountable but they also demonstrate our firm commitment to ensuring that all victims receive justice.”

This investigation was coordinated under Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA). A joint effort between HSI Midland, HSI Guatemala and the HSI Human Smuggling Unit in Washington, D.C. U.S. Immigration and Customs (ICE)’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center/Operation Sentinel; the U.S. Border Patrol; the U.S. Marshals Service; the Odessa and Midland Police Departments; the Texas Department of Public Safety; and the Ector County, Midland County, and Crane County Sherriff’s Offices also helped with the case as part of the task force.