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Press Release

Two arrested and charged federally in connection with cross border human smuggling scheme

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Washington
One defendant connected to smuggling people hidden in freight train cars from Canada

Seattle – Two men connected to a northern border people smuggling scheme made their initial appearances in U.S. District Court in Seattle today, announced U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman. Jesus Ortiz-Plata, 45, of Independence, Oregon, and Juan Pablo Cuellar Medina, 35, of Everett, Washington were arrested yesterday with three non-citizens who had been smuggled into the United States from Canada. The arrests are the result of a lengthy investigation by Homeland Security Investigation’s Border Security Enforcement Team (BEST).

“These defendants have allegedly been linked to an extremely dangerous smuggling scheme where people are loaded into freight cars on trains traveling from Canada into the U.S.,” said U.S. Attorney Gorman. “Being locked in a freight train car is dangerous – there is no control over the heat, cold, or ventilation, and people can be injured or killed by shifting freight. In one dangerous instance last August, some 29 people were rescued from a boxcar filled with plastic pellets.”

Since late 2022, as Border Patrol and investigators encountered non-citizens who had illegally attempted to cross the border, a phone number later linked to Ortiz-Plata kept coming up as the number the non-citizens were supposed to contact. Ortiz-Plata was identified, and law enforcement got court permission to locate the signal from his cell phone.  On Thursday, Ortiz-Plata traveled from his home in Oregon and was followed from Seattle to an apartment in Everett.  He left the apartment with three men – all non-citizens.  All four were taken into custody.  Two had crossed the border in a freight train car and one claimed he had walked across the border and been picked up on the U.S. side.  Medina was the resident of the apartment where the men had been staying. Medina was arrested and was identified by one non-citizens as the person who had picked him up after they crossed into the U.S.

Conspiracy to commit illegal transportation of a non-citizen for private financial gain is punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The charges contained in the criminal complaint are only allegations.  A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The case is being investigated by Homeland Security Investigations, the Border Security Enforcement Team, U.S. Border Patrol, and Border Patrol Air and Marine Group.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Celia Lee.


Press contact for the U.S. Attorney’s Office is Communications Director Emily Langlie at (206) 553-4110 or

Updated May 24, 2024

Human Smuggling