Manuel Ochoa-Vasquez, 39, of Paso Hondo, Mexico, was sentenced last week by United States District Judge John C. Hinderaker to a term of 96 months in prison, followed by 3 years of supervised release, for his management role in a criminal conspiracy to harbor and transport thousands of undocumented non-citizens. Ochoa-Vasquez pleaded guilty on December 15, 2022, to Conspiracy to Transport Illegal Aliens for Profit and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering.
Agents from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) conducted a year-long court-approved wiretap after discovering that people were being smuggled from the United States border to a mechanic’s shop and several residences in the Phoenix Metro area. During the execution of search warrants, 54 undocumented non-citizens were found in the primary stash house operated by Ochoa-Vasquez and his co-conspirators. The investigation revealed that the people being smuggled were detained at the stash house until their smuggling fees were paid. Additionally, wire communications revealed that Ochoa-Vasquez and his co-conspirators sometimes threatened the families or sponsors of the people being smuggled if the smuggling fees were late.
During search warrants executed at the residences of Ochoa-Vasquez and co-conspirator Carlos Barron-Arredondo, agents located guns, ammunition and over $1.4 million in cash. Ledgers recovered at their residences documented the smuggling of more than 7,000 people. Further investigation by HSI and the Internal Revenue Service also identified the ways in which co-conspirators had laundered the money gained from the smuggling operations.
In addition to Ochoa-Vasquez’s sentence, Barron-Arredondo received a sentence of 57 months in prison, followed by 36 months of supervised release. The remaining 13 co-conspirators, all of whom pleaded guilty and who had various levels of culpability in the organization, were given sentences ranging from time served to as much as 63 months in prison.
This prosecution resulted from the coordinated efforts of Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA). The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona is part of 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, to enhance U.S. enforcement efforts against the most prolific and dangerous human smuggling and trafficking groups operating in Mexico, 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.
The investigation in this case was conducted by Homeland Security Investigations – Sells Office, in coordination with IRS Criminal Investigation. The United States Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona, Tucson, handled the prosecution.