Costa Rican Woman Sentenced to Prison for Role in Human Smuggling Conspiracy
A citizen and resident of Costa Rica was sentenced today to 30 months in prison for her leadership role in a conspiracy to smuggle undocumented migrants to the United States.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida, and Special Agent in Charge Clark E. Settles of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations’ (ICE- HSI) Washington, D.C., Field Office made the announcement. U.S. District Judge Ursula M. Ungaro of the Southern District of Florida imposed the sentence.
Mercedes Morera Roche, 49, of Costa Rica, was extradited to the United States from Panama on Aug. 21, 2014, to face human smuggling charges. Roche pleaded guilty on Oct. 6, 2014, to conspiracy to smuggle more than 25 undocumented migrants from Cuba to the United States.
According to her plea agreement, Roche admitted that between 2004 and 2011, she was an organizer of a human smuggling network that provided instructions, fraudulent identity and travel documents, escorts, transport, safe house locations, and other assistance to facilitate the illicit travel of undocumented migrants to the United States. Roche admitted that in some cases, she provided fraudulent passports so that undocumented migrants could fly to the United States with the help of corrupt foreign airline and immigration officials. Roche directed the migrants to destroy the fraudulent documents during the flights to the United States, and instructed the migrants about what to do and say to U.S. immigration authorities upon landing. In other cases, Roche coordinated the smuggling of undocumented migrants over land routes through Latin America and Mexico into the United States. Roche solicited payments of up to $10,000 for each undocumented migrant.
The investigation was pursued under the Extraterritorial Criminal Travel Strike Force (ECT) program, a joint partnership between the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and HSI. The ECT program focuses on human smuggling networks that may present particular national security or public safety risks or present grave humanitarian concerns. ECT has dedicated investigative, intelligence and prosecutorial resources. ECT coordinates with and receives assistance from other U.S. government agencies and foreign law enforcement authorities.
The investigation was conducted by ICE- HSI’s Washington, D.C. Field Office with support from the Human Smuggling Trafficking Center and U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center. Critical assistance was also provided by HSI’s Miami Field Office and the ICE Attaché Office in Panama. Extradition assistance was provided by the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, INTERPOL Washington and the United States Marshals Service. The Justice Department is grateful for the significant assistance provided by the Panamanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney Michael Sheckels of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Emery of the Southern District of Florida.