Illinois Man Sentenced to Federal Prison for Passing Counterfeit United States Currency and Attempted Passing Counterfeit United States Currency
SIOUX FALLS - United States Attorney Alison J. Ramsdell announced that a federal jury has convicted Juan Francisco Alvarez-Sorto, age 25, of El Salvador, and Deyvin Morales, age 29, of Guatemala, of the following offenses: Kidnapping; Carjacking; Brandishing a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence; Unlawful Possession of a Firearm by a Prohibited Person; and Unlawful Reentry after Deportation. The jury returned its verdict on each count following a 6-day jury trial in federal district court in Rapid City, South Dakota. The verdict was returned on January 23, 2024.
According to evidence presented at trial, on May 5, 2022, Alvarez, Morales, and Lopez traveled from Greeley, Colorado, into southwestern South Dakota for the purpose of trafficking and distributing controlled substances, including methamphetamine, fentanyl, and heroin. During their trip, the defendants encountered law enforcement and engaged in a high-speed chase. The defendants eluded law enforcement at that time and hid in a remote area near Red Shirt, South Dakota.
Alvarez, Morales, and Lopez then decided to carjack the next vehicle to come along the area at which the defendants stopped on BIA Highway 41. At approximately 2:00am on May 6, 2022, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Victim Specialist left an unrelated crime scene investigation near Oglala, South Dakota, and began traveling back towards his duty station in Rapid City. The FBI employee was driving his assigned FBI vehicle.
As the employee was heading North on BIA 41 near the Badlands overlook on Cuny Table, he passed a vehicle that was parked in the approach near the overlook. As he passed the parked vehicle, the parked vehicle’s lights turned on and the vehicle pulled out behind the employee. The employee, believing he was being pulled over by law enforcement, pulled his vehicle to the side of the road. After the employee pulled his vehicle over, he next realized there was a male at his window pointing a rifle at him and ordering him to get out of the vehicle. The employee realized that the male, identified as Alvarez, was not a law enforcement officer and also that the vehicle had blocked his own vehicle, preventing him from driving away.
Morales and Alvarez ordered the FBI employee out of the vehicle at gun point. The employee was ordered to get on the ground behind his vehicle while Alvarez was holding the rifle at the back of his head. The employee was ordered to keep his head down while on the ground. The group then robbed him of his wallet, money, credit cards, car keys, watch, and personal and work mobile phones.
The FBI employee was then ordered to get up and placed in the middle-rear seat of his government-issued vehicle, as the passenger side seat was blocked with items. While holding the rifle, Alvarez was seated in the front passenger seat of the employee’s vehicle and Morales, while armed with two handguns in his waistband, was seated in the rear driver’s side seat next to the employee. Lopez got into the driver’s seat of the employee’s vehicle. At this point, the defendants took control of the vehicle and took the employee hostage. As the group traveled North on BIA 41, they told the employee to cooperate and he would be safe, but if he did not, the group would come after his family and that they knew where he lived.
The group traveled to Hermosa, South Dakota, stopping at a gas station at the intersection of State Highway 40 and Highway 79. Once the group arrived at the gas station, Lopez went inside to purchase gas. As she got out of the vehicle to go inside the gas station, Alvarez locked the doors to the employee’s vehicle, and the doors remained locked while Lopez was out of the vehicle. Lopez then came back to the vehicle holding a gas can and zip ties. She entered the vehicle and conducted a U-turn and then went to a gas pump. The FBI employee noticed that after Lopez came back to the vehicle, Alvarez, who was brandishing the firearm, had the zip ties in his possession and was getting them out. As Lopez got out to pump gas, the doors to the vehicle were momentarily unlocked. Seizing the opportunity, the employee opened the rear driver’s side door, fought his way out of the vehicle, slipping out of his jacket to escape Morales' attempts to detain him, and sprinted inside the front doors of the gas station to escape.
The three defendants then fled from the gas station and drove to Rapid City, where they abandoned the FBI vehicle and switched to another vehicle. Alvarez and Morales were able to make it back to Greeley, Colorado, where they were ultimately arrested for their roles in the kidnapping and carjacking. During a search of the residence where Alvarez and Morales were arrested, law enforcement located firearms, including the rifle used during the kidnapping and carjacking, and controlled substances.
“Every day, men and women in the Department of Justice respond to incidents of violent crime in South Dakota,” said U.S. Attorney Alison Ramsdell. “This dedication to improving community safety often comes with great personal sacrifice, and as this case unfortunately demonstrates, on occasion, an extreme risk to personal safety. We are grateful to our partners at the FBI for their dogged commitment to this difficult work, and we hope these convictions send a clear message about the lengths the U.S. Attorney’s Office is willing to go to vindicate the rights of victims, no matter who they are.”
“The FBI will not tolerate violence and threats to harm its personnel,” said Special Agent in Charge Alvin M. Winston Sr. of FBI Minneapolis. “Thank you to our law enforcement partners and the USAO-SD for their hard work and unwavering dedication. This verdict stands as a testament to our commitment to ensuring the safety and security of every member of the FBI. Justice will be relentlessly pursued against those who seek to harm or intimidate any of our workforce.”
This case was investigated by the FBI, Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the South Dakota DCI, the South Dakota Highway Patrol, the Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety, the Rapid City Police Department, and the Greeley, Colorado, Police Department, and the Custer and Pennington County Sheriff’s Offices. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeremy R. Jehangiri and Paige Petersen prosecuted the case.
Alvarez, Morales, and co-defendant Karla Alejandra Lopez-Gutierrez were indicted by a federal grand jury in August of 2022 and Alvarez and Morales were indicted again in December of 2023.
The charge of kidnapping carries any term of years up to life in custody and/or a $250,000 fine and 5 years of supervised release. The charge of carjacking carries 15 years of custody and/or a $250,000 fine and 3 years of supervised release. The use, carry, and brandish a firearm charge carries a mandatory minimum of 7 years and up to life in custody and/or a $250,000 fine and 5 years of supervised release. The unlawful possession of a firearm by a prohibited person charge carries 10 years of custody and/or a $250,000 fine and 3 years of supervised release. The unlawful reentry after deportation charge carries 2 years of custody and/or a $250,000 fine and one year of supervised release. A $100 special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund applies to each count, totaling $500.
A sentencing date has not yet been set. The defendants were remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.