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Press Release

Leader and Chief Financial Officer of Human Smuggling Transportation Cell Sentenced to Prison

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

SAN DIEGO – Lourdes Ortiz Castaneda was sentenced in federal court yesterday to 34 months in prison for her role as the chief financial officer of a vast alien-smuggling organization operating in Southern California for several years. 

The organization’s leader, Gerardo Rigoberto Barojas-Saavedra, was previously sentenced to 71 months in custody for his running one of the most prolific smuggling operations in Southern California from 2019 through 2021.  According to their plea agreements, Barojas, known as “El Jefe” (“The Boss”), admitted that he, along with Ortiz and others, smuggled more than one hundred undocumented migrants from Mexico into the United States, including some minors, through the southern border to Orange County and as far as the east coast. According to their plea agreements, Barojas and Ortiz charged migrants between $7,000 and $8,000 per person to be smuggled to Orange County, receiving the majority of smuggling fees in cash.  According to their plea agreements, Barojas received approximately $216,925 in wire transfers and Ortiz received payments in cash, check, and wire transfers totaling approximately $480,465.

U.S. Border Patrol Agents assigned to the Boulevard Border Patrol Station led the investigation into the smuggling organization, resulting in the interdiction of approximately 150 alien smuggling events and the prosecution of three couriers, according to the complaint.  The plea agreements reflect that the organization operated by renting vehicles and recruiting drivers to pick up illegal aliens along the Interstate 8 corridor in Imperial and San Diego counties, after the aliens had crossed illegally into the United States. Several of these smuggling events involved substantial risk to the migrants, including, for example, one event in which three were transported in an unsafe manner concealed within the trunk of a vehicle.

According to publicly filed documents, on or about November 9, 2020, the Anaheim Police Department arrested Barojas for allegedly kidnapping one of the minor migrants he smuggled into the United States and holding the minor at gunpoint. Officers found nine migrants, including the minor, in Barojas’ stash house, and seized four Glock handguns, one shotgun, two AR-15 rifles (including Barojas’ personal rifle bearing punisher logo), high-capacity magazines, a suitcase containing ammunition, hand-drawn maps depicting smuggling routes and locations to pick up aliens in the Southern District of California, electronic devices, a ledger, pay/owe sheets, and over $20,000 in cash. Barojas pleaded guilty to assault with a semi-automatic firearm in violation of California Penal Code 245(b) and Human Trafficking for Forced Labor in violation of California Penal Code 236.1(a) in 2021.

The plea agreements revealed that while in custody on the state charges from 2020 to 2021, Barojas continued running the Barojas alien smuggling organization from custody with the help of Ortiz and others.  Ortiz handled day-to-day operations during this time, and also continued managing the financial operations of the smuggling organization until her arrest in September 2021.

The sentences, handed down by U.S. District Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz, included enhanced penalties for the substantial risk that the Barojas organization’s drivers caused; the illegal transportation of an unaccompanied minor; the possession of firearms in furtherance of the offense; the transportation of more than 100 aliens; and their aggravated roles within the transportation cell’s alien smuggling activities. 

“We cannot emphasize enough that human smugglers only care about money and have very little regard for the safety and well-being of their customers,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Andrew Haden. “I urge anyone considering this perilous journey: Please do not trust a smuggler with your life.”

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Loren G. Rene.

DEFENDANTS                                            Case Number 21-cr-02922-BTM

Gerardo Rigoberto Barojas-Saavedra             Age: 35           Anaheim, CA

Lourdes Ortiz Castaneda                                Age: 28           Anaheim, CA 


Conspiracy to Transport Aliens, in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(v)(I)

Maximum penalty: Ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine per count


U.S. Border Patrol


The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California helps lead Joint Task Force Alpha (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 and the Northern Triangle countries of 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. JTFA consists of federal prosecutors and attorneys from U.S. Attorney’s Offices along the Southwest Border (District of Arizona, Southern District of California, Southern District of Texas, and Western District of Texas), from the Criminal Division and the Civil Rights Division, along with law enforcement agents and analysts from DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, and Border Patrol.  The FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration are also part of the Task Force.


Cindy Cipriani 619-546-9608 or    

Updated August 25, 2023

Press Release Number: CAS23-0721-Barojas-Saavedra, et al