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HSI Nogales human smuggling case leads to guilty plea to transporting and harboring over 100 people

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TUCSON, Ariz. – A local area woman pleaded guilty in federal court in connection with her role as the coordinator of a human smuggling operation in Avondale, Ariz., following a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Nogales assisted by U.S. Border Patrol.

Amalia Gonzalez-Lara, 43, of Phoenix, admitted that she conspired to transport and harbor over 100 illegal aliens for profit during a proceeding before the U.S. Magistrate Judge.

On Jan. 12, law enforcement agents located 20 undocumented people, all nationals of Mexico or Guatemala, inside a residence located at 1905 North 119th Drive in Avondale, Arizona. Over the course of the conspiracy, the house was used to conceal large numbers of foreign nationals who had been smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border and transported to the Phoenix area. Special agents with HSI and U.S. Border Patrol made the arrests.

Co-conspirator Sergio Vazquez-Flores, 46, of Goodyear, Arizona, pleaded guilty to conspiring to transport and harbor over 100 illegal aliens for profit on Nov. 5. Vazquez-Flores operated the stash house at the Avondale address on behalf of Gonzalez-Lara.

A conviction for Conspiracy to Transport and Harbor Illegal Aliens for Profit carries a maximum penalty of ten years, a maximum fine of $250,000, or both.

Sentencing for Vazquez-Flores is scheduled for Jan. 25, 2022, and for Gonzalez-Lara on Feb. 1, 2022.

This case resulted from the efforts of the Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA), which was established by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in June to marshal the investigative and prosecutorial resources of the Department of Justice, 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. JTFA consists of federal prosecutors and attorneys from U.S. Attorney’s Offices along the Southwest Border (District of Arizona, Southern District of California, Southern District of Texas, and Western District of Texas), from the Criminal Division and the Civil Rights Division, along with law enforcement agents and analysts from DHS. The FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration are also part of the Task Force.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona, Tucson, handled the prosecution.

HSI is a directorate of ICE and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 special agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States, and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

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