Arkansas man sentenced for leading large human smuggling operation
PHOENIX- A Guatemalan man living in Arkansas was sentenced Wednesday to nearly five years in federal prison for his role leading a human smuggling organization that brought more than 800 illegal aliens into the U.S. through Arizona. The sentence follows an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents in Phoenix and Little Rock, Arkansas. Rony Abimael Gonzalez-Herrera, 37, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge John A. Jarvey to 57 months in federal prison. Gonzalez pleaded guilty Jan. 9 to conspiracy to transport and harbor illegal aliens. According to court documents, Gonzalez-Herrera led a Little Rock-based human smuggling operation that smuggled at least 827 aliens into the U.S. from Mexico in 2012 and early 2013. Gonzalez-Herrera used multiple drop houses in the metropolitan Phoenix area as a transportation "hub," including one house discovered by HSI Phoenix in January 2013 that contained more than 40 illegal aliens. The organization coordinated the transportation of undocumented aliens from Phoenix to destinations throughout the U.S., often significantly overloading vehicles. Gonzalez-Herrera was arrested in Little Rock on May 13, 2013 by HSI special agents, who also seized four cell phones Gonzalez has used to contact his smugglers and to coordinate payment from smuggled aliens' families. Family members reported that Gonzalez-Herrera directed them to deposit smuggling fees into specific bank accounts. After one smuggled alien was arrested by law enforcement, his family members contacted Gonzalez to request he return the smuggling fees. In response, Gonzalez told them, "Your family will pay if you keep asking for the money."