A Guatemalan national will spend eight years in federal prison for playing a key role in a large-scale human smuggling ring that brought thousands of undocumented immigrants from Central America to the Southland, often holding them against their will in drop houses, prosecutors said Thursday.
Fredy Oswaldo Gamez Reyes, was responsible for overseeing operation of human smuggling drop houses in Baldwin Park, Lynwood, Compton and Hesperia,
In sentencing Gamez Reyes on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge S. James Otero pointed to the smuggling organization's tactics, including the use of weapons and guard dogs to intimidate clients, as the basis for the prison term.
Gamez, 44, pleaded guilty in May 2012 to six counts of harboring and concealing undocumented aliens for financial gain.
According to court documents, Gamez acknowledged he served as a supervisor for a criminal organization that smuggled more than 6,000 illegal immigrants into the Los Angeles region over a three-year period, beginning in 2008, generating an estimated $10 million in income.
A probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations revealed Gamez held a number of jobs within the organization, including locating and renting drop houses; overseeing the operation of those locations; and collecting smuggling fees from aliens' relatives in exchange for the victims' release.
Numerous incidents perpetrated by members of the organization involving beatings, sexual assaults and hostage taking were also uncovered, authorities said.
"As this sentence makes clear, those who exploit people in this brutal and despicable way will themselves face serious consequences,'' said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. "Alien smugglers view their clients as nothing more than a payday and they have no qualms about using threats and violence to collect their smuggling fees.''
The smuggling organization originally came to authorities' attention in July 2009 after HSI special agents and Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies responded to a drop house in Compton, where 20 people were reportedly being held against their will. Two of the captives wrote a plea for help on a napkin and threw it out the window, where it was found by neighborhood children.
Evidence uncovered during the ensuing the investigation showed Gamez was
responsible for overseeing the operation of the Compton location, along with
three other human smuggling drop houses in Baldwin Park, Lynwood and Hesperia, according to federal prosecutors.
To date, 11 other people involved in the ring have been arrested and/or convicted of federal charges, resulting in prison sentences of 33 to 51 months, officials said.