Justice News

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Foreign National Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Undocumented African Nationals into the United States

A national of Eritrea and citizen of the United Kingdom pleaded guilty today to smuggling undocumented immigrants from Eritrea and Ethiopia into the United States.          

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. of the District of Columbia and Special Agent in Charge Clark Settles of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) Washington, D.C., Field Office made the announcement.

According to his plea agreement, Habtom Merhay, 47, who operated primarily from his residence in Dubai, orchestrated the unlawful smuggling of up to 99 undocumented African immigrants to the United States for profit.  Specifically, Merhay admitted that in exchange for fees up to $14,000, he smuggled immigrants into the United States by providing fraudulent travel documents, purchasing airline tickets for travel to South and Central America, and then coordinating with a network of smugglers to facilitate the travel by air, land and water across Central America and Mexico and into the United States. 

Merhay pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton of the District of Columbia, and is scheduled for sentencing on Dec. 16, 2014.  Merhay was in the custody of Moroccan authorities between his arrest in Marrakech, Morocco, in August 2013 and extradition to the United States on April 25, 2014.    

The investigation was led by HSI’s Washington, D.C., Field Office, with the support of the Human Smuggling Trafficking Center and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center.  This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Jay Bauer of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Frederick Yette of the District of Columbia.  The extradition was handled by Dan E. Stigall of the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs.  

The Department of Justice and HSI expressed their appreciation for the significant assistance provided by the Moroccan Ministry of Justice. 

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14-1026
Updated September 24, 2014