A Florida man who headed a human smuggling operation that transported Cuban nationals to the United States through Mexico has been sentenced to 9 years in prison, according to the Justice Department (DOJ).
George Ferrer Sanchez, 46, of Miramar, Florida, was sentenced by a district court judge on Wednesday for orchestrating a conspiracy to launder the proceeds of an alien smuggling operation. He previously pled guilty to participating in a conspiracy to commit money laundering, the department announced in a statement on Friday.
Ferrer Sanchez was also ordered to pay a $5.4 million forfeiture money judgment and to forfeit two properties to the federal government.
The 46-year-old was the leader of an alien smuggling conspiracy that was operating in Miami between around January 2009 and June 2015, according to DOJ, citing court records. He had directed an operation that stole vessels used to smuggle the Cuban nationals to the United States via Mexico for payment.
Once the illegal immigrants were smuggled to Mexico, Ferrer Sanchez’s operation would contact the migrants’ family members and friends in South Florida asking for payment for their release. The funds acquired from the conspiracy were laundered through business and real property, according to the court records.
His arrest and prosecution was the result of the work of a multi-agency task force, Operation Sisyphus Task Force, established to combat Caribbean-based organized crime. The task force has in recent years targeted organizations that have been using coercion and extortion to force migrants and their families to make payments for the release of loved ones.
This follows a similar announcement where a Mexican woman, who led a human smuggling organization, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for her role in a conspiracy to transport illegal immigrants.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced on Wednesday that Brenda Yadira Gamez-Castaneda, aka Guera La Trailera, 41, was sentenced by a district court judge for her role in the criminal enterprise as well as for illegally reentering the United States after being previously deported. She given 24 months for that conviction, which will run concurrently with her sentence for transporting illegal aliens. Following her sentence, she will be deported back to Mexico, authorities said.
ICE officials said, citing court records, that the operation began around May 2019 where two co-defendants—Roberto Flores-Brewster and Adolfo Medina-Cervantez—harbored and transported illegal immigrants in a property in Donna, Texas. Flores-Brewster then transported the migrants to Gamez-Castaneda, who then with the help of another defendant, Silber Vazquez-Mireles, transport the illegal immigrations to other stash houses and hotels. The illegal immigrants would then remain at these locations until Gamez-Castaneda arranged drivers to smuggle them beyond the South Texas U.S. Border Patrol (CBP) checkpoints.
Gamez-Castaneda was found responsible for smuggling at least 25 illegal immigrants, among which were minors who she used to assist in the conspiracy. One of the migrants was held involuntarily, while another was also held by coercion in connection with a demand for payment, officials said.
Gamez-Castaneda’s sentence was enhanced after the court heard evidence that she had obstructed and impeded the administration of justice by destroying evidence, demanding people to destroy evidence, and directing a co-defendant on what to say to authorities, according to the statement. She also tried to leave the United States after finding out that she was being investigated.
Her co-defendant Vazquez-Mireles, 32, also from Mexico, has been sentenced to 3 years and 4 months in prison for his role in the smuggling operation, a sentence which was enhanced due to obstruction of justice. Meanwhile, Flores-Brewster, 60, and Medina-Cervantez, 29, are set to be sentenced in March.
CBP has repeatedly warned about the efforts of human smugglers to bring individuals in the United States. The department saw an unprecedented number of illegal aliens entering the country to seek asylum last year, which prompted the Trump administration to ramp up efforts to address the impending problem.
One of the administration’s top priorities is to end loopholes from the current “catch and release” policy, in which migrants are released into the interior of the country as they await a court hearing, often never to be seen again.
The administration implemented the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), more commonly known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, at the beginning of 2019 as an attempt to curb the flow of illegal immigration and prevent fraudulent or nonmeritorious cases. The policy sends migrants back to Mexico while they wait for a court to process their claims. The administration expanded the implementation of the MPP in June that year after the United States and Mexico reached a deal.
The number of apprehensions and inadmissible have fallen over the past seven months since its peak at 144,000 in May last year. Since May the number of those apprehended or deemed inadmissible fell by 72 percent through to December last year, according to CBP data.