Inland Empire Woman Arrested on Federal Charges of Helping Her Husband Flee United States While He Was Pending Sentencing
RIVERSIDE, California – A Moreno Valley woman was arrested this morning on federal charges after she allegedly helped her husband flee the United States after he had pleaded guilty in a federal criminal case.
Elba Soto, 36, was arrested without incident this morning by the U.S. Marshals Service. Soto made her initial appearance this afternoon in United States District Court in Riverside, where she was ordered detained (held without bond). An arraignment in the case was scheduled for October 19.
Soto was arrested pursuant to a criminal complaint that charges her with being an accessory after the fact for allegedly driving her husband to Mexico so he could avoid being sentenced after pleading guilty to illegal reentry after deportation.
Soto’s husband, Jose Guadalupe Vega-Zuniga, pleaded guilty on August 3 and remains scheduled to be sentenced on October 17. Vega-Zuniga admitted that he was in the United States without authorization after being deported to his native Mexico on four occasions between 2000 and 2008. When he pleaded guilty before United States District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald in Los Angeles, Vega-Zuniga admitted that he previously had been convicted of drug trafficking and assault with a deadly weapon in state court, as well as being found guilty in 2000 of a felony offense of illegally being in the United States. At the time of his guilty plea, Vega-Zuniga was free on a $100,000 unsecured bond and was subject to electronic location monitoring.
According to the criminal complaint filed against Soto, Vega-Zuniga removed his location monitoring bracelet about four days after pleading guilty. On August 8, a person resembling Soto went to the court’s Pretrial Services Office and returned the electronic monitoring bracelet, explaining that Vega-Zuniga had removed the device and she did not know his whereabouts.
An investigation by the U.S. Marshals Service revealed that Soto’s vehicle entered Mexico through the Otay Mesa port of entry on August 18. Photographs taken during the crossing show Soto in the driver’s seat of the vehicle, with Vega-Zuniga in the passenger seat.
“The evidence in this case indicates the defendant knowingly transported her husband to Mexico while he was pending sentencing in the latest of his criminal cases,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “If these allegations are proven, the defendant knowingly assisted a convicted felon avoid justice. As a result, the defendant now faces her own criminal case and a significant prison term.”
A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
If she is found guilty of being an accessory after the fact by helping Vega-Zuniga flee the United States, Soto would face half of the maximum prison sentence that Vega-Zuniga faces as a result of his guilty plea. Vega-Zuniga faces a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, so therefore Soto would face a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
The case against Soto is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Bilal A. Essayli of the Riverside Branch Office.