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Press Release

Three people charged for hostage taking of foreign nationals in Chaparral

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

            ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Ricardo Arce, Vicki Sowell and Jonathan Gonzalez have been charged in federal court with hostage taking.

           Arce, 40, of Chaparral, New Mexico, and Sowell, 35, of El Paso, Texas, were arrested on April 28. Sowell was charged in court and ordered detained on May 5. Arce was charged in court and ordered detained on May 7. Both will remain detained pending trial. Gonzales, 34, of Chaparral, was arrested on May 12 and made a first appearance in court on May 21. A detention hearing for Gonzalez is scheduled for May 26.

          The defendants allegedly participated in an alien smuggling organization that held victims hostage for money and assaulted the victims.

            According to a criminal complaint, on April 4 a citizen of the country of Georgia entered the United States from Juarez, Mexico, into El Paso. The victim later met people who allegedly were a part of an alien smuggling organization and paid them to transport him to New York where his family lives. They allegedly transported the victim to an unknown location and would not allow him to leave. They allegedly assaulted the victim by punching, kicking and hitting him and threatened that unless they received more money they would kill him. After the victim provided contact information for his family in Georgia, the defendants allegedly sent videos of the victim being assaulted and told the family that they would continue to harm or kill the victim if they did not pay.

            On approximately April 25, the family contacted law enforcement in Georgia, who then contacted the FBI. On April 27, law enforcement recovered the victim at a barbershop in the El Paso area.

            On approximately April 13, a citizen of Honduras entered the United States from Juarez. On approximately April 14, this second victim was taken to a trailer where approximately 14 other individuals allegedly were held. The victim was then taken to another trailer and later to a house where he encountered the victim from Georgia. The defendants allegedly assaulted the second victim multiple times on video and threatened his life if he did not pay them. On approximately April 17, the defendants allegedly contacted the victim’s family in Dallas, Texas, and demanded money for the victim’s release. On April 27, law enforcement recovered the victim at a pizza restaurant in the El Paso area.

            “Anyone targeting and seeking to extort money from individuals who illegally cross the United States’ border should take heed that our office will vigorously prosecute all manner of violence and threats of violence,” said Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico Fred J. Federici.

          “Those who seek to exploit and prey upon the vulnerable will be held accountable for these heinous crimes,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge for FBI El Paso Jeffrey L. Coburn. “I want to thank our FBI El Paso Violent Crime squad, FBI SWAT, our local law enforcement partners, and victim services for their help and support. It takes incredibly special people willing to put his or her life on the line to hold these violent criminals accountable for the emotional and physical harm they caused the victims and their families. And to do this day after day is the true definition of being a public servant.”

            A complaint is only an allegation. Defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. If convicted, the defendants face up to life in prison.

            The FBI El Paso Field Office investigated this case with assistance from the FBI Las Cruces Resident Agency, El Paso Police Department, Las Cruces Police Department, Otero County Sheriff's Office, Doña Ana County Sheriff's Office, U.S. Border Patrol El Paso Sector and Border Patrol El Paso Sector Special Operations Detachment BORTAC. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew Ramirez, Luis Martinez and Rachel Feuerhammer are prosecuting the case.

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Updated May 24, 2021

Human Smuggling
Violent Crime
Press Release Number: 21-100