A U.S. Army soldier was found guilty on Tuesday of alien smuggling charges, following an investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST).
El Paso’s BEST team members include ICE, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Border Patrol; the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department; and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of Texas.
Alejandro Javier Lazos Ortiz, 32, a soldier assigned to Fort Bliss, and three other members of an alien smuggling organization, were arrested by BEST members on Oct. 12 for conspiring to smuggle 12 illegal aliens from Mexico. A federal jury March 27 convicted Lazos Ortiz of one count each of conspiracy to harbor aliens, harboring illegal aliens, and inducing/encouraging illegal aliens to reside in the United States, all for profit.
According to testimony during the two-day trial, Lazos Ortiz participated in an alien smuggling operation that was responsible for smuggling more than 100 illegal aliens from Hidalgo, Mexico, into the United States. The illegal aliens paid smuggling fees ranging from $1,500 to $2,500 to be crossed into the country illegally and taken to various U.S. cities.
The alien smuggling organization walked the undocumented aliens across the Rio Grande, and housed them in many drop houses in the El Paso area. Later, members of the smuggling ring loaded the illegal border crossers into train boxcars destined for Tucson. Once in Tucson, they were driven to Phoenix, then to Las Vegas. From there, many of the illegal aliens traveled to Atlanta.
“It was clear to our investigators, and the jury agreed, that Lazos Ortiz and his organization traded their human dignity for profit and greed,” said Roberto G. Medina, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in El Paso. “ICE will continue to aggressively target unscrupulous smugglers, who have little regard for the health, well-being and dignity of their human cargo.”
Evidence presented during trial showed that Lazos Ortiz rented stash houses, provided vehicles for transporting the aliens and collected alien smuggling fees. Western Union transaction records showed that between April 2005 and November 2006, Lazos Ortiz collected more than $36,000 from 40 different individuals in Mexico and 15 states, including: New York, California, Florida, Nevada, Maryland, Georgia, Colorado and Texas.
More than 15 defendants have been convicted for their roles in this alien smuggling organization. The three men who BEST members arrested in October along with Lazos Ortiz have since pleaded.
Lazos Ortiz, who remains on bond, is scheduled to be sentenced June 11 before U.S. District Judge David Briones. He faces a maximum of 10 years in federal prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Richard Watts, Brandy Gardes and Chris Blanton are prosecuting this case.
BEST is an ICE-led, U.S. Department of Homeland Security national initiative created along the southern border. The El Paso BEST team was formed in October 2006. Since its inception, the team has arrested and prosecuted 85 individuals, obtained 21 federal indictments and earned convictions against 22 people. The team has also seized 45 vehicles, two weapons and more than $91,500 in cash. BEST has also seized 459 pounds of marijuana and 70 pounds of cocaine. The team has returned 380 illegal aliens to their country of origin.
The BEST team includes officers from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies who are collocated in the task force to share information. This close coordination among law enforcement agencies also helps to identify and eliminate cross-border criminal organizations, such as alien smuggling networks, and the supporting infrastructure that sustains them.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and he’s a staff writer for the New Media Alliance (thenma.org).