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Press Release

Honduras-Based Leader of Alien Smuggling Organization Sentenced to 120 Months in Prison

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Arizona

TUCSON, Ariz. – Maria Mendoza-Mendoza aka “La Guera”, 52, of Honduras, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Raner C. Collins to 120 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Mendoza-Mendoza pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Transport Illegal Aliens for Profit. 

“Today’s sentencing is the latest example of the great work of Joint Task Force Alpha, which we launched nearly three years ago to hold accountable the most prolific and dangerous human smuggling groups, and which has obtained more than 240 convictions to date,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “This defendant exploited vulnerable migrants for her own profit, risking their lives and our national security in the process. Together with our partners across the federal government, the Justice Department will continue our efforts to dismantle and disrupt human smuggling networks like those the defendant operated.”

“Cooperation and collaboration are key tools in protecting America from the reach of international human smuggling organizations,” said United States Attorney Gary Restaino. “We thank Honduras for its willingness to extradite, the various local agencies who interdicted migrants and helped us make the connection to a larger organization, and all of the Joint Task Force Alpha partners for dismantling a smuggling network.”

“Human smuggling is an insidious crime and one that this defendant participated in over 100 times – all for profit,” said Fransisco B. Burrola, special agent in charge for HSI Arizona. “Human smugglers do nothing but prey on vulnerable people who at times pay with their lives while crossing the border. Smugglers endanger and exploit people by using dangerous networks that threaten the safety of our communities and our national security; HSI is committed to combatting this type of cross border crime along with our partner law enforcement agencies. Let this sentencing serve as a warning to other smugglers contemplating their continued participation – prison awaits you.”

Mendoza-Mendoza was the leader of a smuggling organization that smuggled over 100 migrants from Honduras to the United States. As the leader, she coordinated the movement of migrants from Honduras to the United States/Mexico border and to stash houses operated in Phoenix, Arizona, where the migrants would be detained until their smuggling fees were paid. The organization utilized funnel accounts to collect millions of dollars in smuggling fees. Mendoza-Mendoza exercised her authority within the organization to assess punitive sanctions—she threatened to “bleed out” a guide as punishment and demanded that a migrant whose family did not pay his smuggling fee be thrown “back in the desert.”

Mendoza-Mendoza was indicted in January 2018 and extradited from Honduras to the United States in June 2023. In determining Mendoza-Mendoza’s sentence, Judge Collins found that the conspiracy involved several aggravating factors, including smuggling unaccompanied minors, possession of a firearm, intentionally or recklessly creating a substantial risk of death, and detaining migrants through coercion or threat in connection with a demand for payment.

This prosecution resulted from the coordinated efforts of Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA). The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona is part of JTFA, which was established by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in June 2021 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. Since its creation in June 2021, JTFA has achieved significant results, including 305 arrests, including against leaders, organizers, and significant facilitators; 242 U.S. convictions; 175 U.S. defendants sentenced, including significant jail sentences imposed; substantial seizures and forfeiture of assets and contraband, including hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, real property, vehicles, firearms and ammunition, and drugs; multiple indictments and successful extradition requests against foreign leadership targets.

Homeland Security Investigations – Sells Office conducted the investigation in this case, with significant assistance from Customs and Border Protection’s United States Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, and numerous state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the country. The United States Marshals Service assisted with the extradition efforts. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs worked with law enforcement partners in Honduras to secure the arrest and extradition of Mendoza-Mendoza. The United States Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona, Tucson, handled the prosecution.

CASE NUMBER:           CR-18-0078-TUC-RCC
RELEASE NUMBER:    2024-069_Mendoza-Mendoza

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Public Affairs
Zach J. Stoebe
Telephone: (602) 514-7413

Updated May 28, 2024

Human Trafficking
Press Release Number: 2024-069_Mendoza-Mendoza