WASHINGTON – On September 13, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) joined the United States Department of Justice in announcing a major crackdown that disrupted and dismantled a prolific human trafficking operation in Texas and the southern United States. The operation, part of Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA), included the arrest of eight suspected smugglers whose indictment went unsealed today in the Southern District of Texas (SDTX).

In April, the Biden administration launched a first-of-its-kind effort of unprecedented scale to disrupt and dismantle these human trafficking rings. DHS has committed more than $50 million and hired more than 1,300 people in Latin America and along the southwest border, to bolster efforts through JTFA, Operation Sentinel, and other . DHS works daily with our international partners, working together to bring swift justice to these criminal organizations. Since the launch of this unprecedented campaign, nearly 5,000 arrests have been made both in the United States and by our regional partners within its borders, and 7,603 kilograms of drugs have been seized.

“At DHS, combating human trafficking is a moral imperative, a law enforcement priority, and a necessity for our national security,” said Deputy Secretary John K. Tien of the Department of internal security. “This is central to our efforts to combat irregular migration in the Western Hemisphere and to hold transnational criminal organizations accountable for the perpetration of despicable and horrific crimes. We are unwavering in our commitment and send a strong message: if you manipulate, jeopardize, and take advantage of troubled migrants, we are coming for you.This investigation is a perfect example of how we are bringing our agencies and constituents together to leverage the full force of the federal government to achieve this.

“Transnational criminal organizations often use sophisticated evasion techniques to facilitate their smuggling and trafficking efforts,” said Acting Deputy Director PJ Lechleitner of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agents utilize a full range of law enforcement and cross-border enforcement techniques to combat human trafficking by effectively eliminating the incentive for profit, seizing active and maintaining strong, collaborative relationships with law enforcement partners across the country and the world. Today should be a reminder that if you engage in this type of criminal activity, your criminal network is not invisible.The members of the organization will be unmasked, the network will be dismantled and you will be brought to justice.

“Smugglers are criminals who don’t care about human life,” said Deputy Commissioner Troy Miller of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). “They lie to make money, convincing vulnerable migrants to hand over what are often their life savings in exchange for empty promises to get to the United States. Smugglers regularly abandon migrants in the desert or mountains without food or water, leaving them for dead. CBP strives to be flexible, adaptable, and think outside the box when it comes to disrupting these criminal organizations and protecting migrants from harm.

The JTFA has been successful in increasing coordination and collaboration among DHS, the Department of Justice, and other interagency law enforcement participants, as well as foreign law enforcement partners, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico; targeted organizations that have the greatest impact on the United States; and coordinated major smuggling indictments and extradition efforts in U.S. prosecutors’ offices across the country. To date, JTFA’s work with its partners has resulted in criminal charges and more than 100 domestic and international arrests against leaders, organizers and major facilitators of human trafficking activities, several dozen convictions, significant prison sentences and the confiscation of significant assets.

“More than a year ago, we launched Joint Task Force Alpha to bolster our efforts across government to dismantle the most dangerous trafficking and human trafficking networks,” the prosecutor said. General Merrick B. Garland. “The charges announced today are just the latest example of the success of these efforts. The Department of Justice will continue to mobilize all of its resources to combat human smuggling and trafficking groups that endanger our communities, abuse and exploit migrants, and threaten our national security.

Erminia Serrano Piedra alias Irma and Boss Lady, 31, led the human smuggling operation. Other defendants include Jeremy Dickens, 45; Katie Ann Garcia aka Guera, 39; Kevin Daniel Nuber aka Captain, 41 years old; Laura Nuber aka Barbie, 40; Lloyd Bexley, 51; Oliveria Piedra-Campuzana, 53; and Pedro Hairo Abrigo, 33. All were arrested in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas on charges previously filed and unsealed in SDTX.

According to the indictment, this group of eight facilitated the illegal transportation and movement of migrants within the United States under deplorable conditions for profit. The migrants are believed to be Colombian, Guatemalan and Mexican citizens. The migrants or their families allegedly paid members of the human trafficking organization to help them travel illegally to and within the United States.

Additionally, the criminal human smuggling organization allegedly used drivers to pick up migrants near the US-Mexico border and transport them further inside the United States. They would often have housed migrants in “hidden houses” along the way in places such as Austin and Laredo, Texas. The drivers reportedly used a variety of methods to transport the migrants, including hiding them in suitcases placed in pick-up trucks and cramming them into the back of tractor-trailers, covered flatbeds of pick-up trucks, reused water tanks or plastic crates. lumber attached to flatbed trailers. The human smuggling organization allegedly used life-threatening methods of transporting migrants as they were frequently held in confined spaces with little ventilation, no temperature screening and in conditions that put them at risk. in great danger. The organization’s drivers were reportedly paid up to $2,500 for each migrant they transported illegally.

The indictment also mentions the criminal forfeiture of three properties as well as money judgments amounting to $2,299,152.40.

“This human trafficking organization has operated on an enormous scale, placing a high value on financial profit, while putting the lives of migrants in great danger,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice. “The JTFA will continue to use any means necessary to pursue and disrupt criminal smuggling networks and protect the vulnerable populations they exploit.”

“Unfortunately, this case is an example of what we see all too often in our district, especially in our border communities,” said U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery for the Southern District of Texas. “Our Laredo office is constantly working with our valued partners to bring to justice those who allegedly put profits above all else. No amount of money should substitute for human life.

The indictments against these defendants were brought under the aegis of the JTFA. DHS Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland established the JTFA in June 2021 to bolster the two departments’ overall efforts to combat the dangerous rise in human trafficking from Central America and affecting our border communities. The JTFA’s goal is to disrupt and dismantle human smuggling and trafficking networks operating in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, with a focus on networks that endanger, abuse or exploit migrants, pose national security risks, or engage in other types of transnational activities. organized crime.

The JTFA includes representatives from the United States Attorney’s Offices on the southwest border, including the Southern District of Texas, the Western District of Texas, the District of New Mexico, the District of Arizona, and the District Southern California, and dedicated support for the program is also provided by many components of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division that are part of the JTFA – headed by the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP ) and supported by Office of Prosecutor Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT), Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Section (NDDS), Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS) , the Office of Enforcement Operations (OEO), the Office of International Affairs (OIA), and the Organized Crime and Gangs Section (OCGS). The JTFA is made possible through a substantial investment in law enforcement from DHS, FBI, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration and other partners.

HSI Laredo, along with CBP’s U.S. Border Patrol Laredo Sector and DHS-OIG, led U.S. investigative efforts and received substantial assistance from HSI offices in Austin, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi, Texas; New Orleans, Louisiana; Gulfport, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; West Palm Beach, Florida; and its Human Smuggling Unit in Washington, DC; with CBP’s National Targeting Center; U.S. Marshals Service; ICE Apply and Remove Operations – Austin; Laredo, Kileen and Round Rock, Texas, Wiggins, Missouri and Bogalusa, Louisiana police departments; Webb County, Texas, Constable’s Office; Webb County, Texas, District Attorney’s Office; Sheriff’s offices in Webb, Bastrop, and Caldwell County, Texas, and Harrison County, George County, and Stone County, Mississippi; Jefferson Parish and Washington Parish, Louisiana; and Mississippi Narcotics Bureau; and the Louisiana State Police.

trial attorneys Erin Cox and Christian Levesque of the Justice Department’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section; Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Day for the Southern District of Texas and the JTFA; Assistant United States Attorney Paul Harrison for the Southern District of Texas; Trial attorney Daria Andryushchenko and financial investigator Kelly O’Mara of the Justice Department’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section handled the case, with substantial assistance from the Department of Justice electronic surveillance unit of the Bureau of Law Enforcement Operations.