USDOJ reports 2.11.2019 – Two Colombian nationals were sentenced to 45 and 50 years in prison for their roles in a scheme to smuggle illegal aliens from Colombia into the United States, which resulted in the rape of one and the death of two Cuban nationals.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan of the Southern District of Florida and Special Agent in Charge Anthony Salisbury of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Miami Field Office made the announcement.

Carlos Emilio Ibarguen Palacios, 27, and Jhoan Stiven Carreazo Asprilla, 23, Colombian nationals, extradited to the United States in 2017 and 2018 respectively, to face these charges, previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to encourage and induce aliens to come to the Unites States resulting in death as well as three counts of encouraging and inducing aliens to come to the United States resulting in death and placing in jeopardy the lives of any person.  Ibarguen Palacios and Carreazo Asprilla were sentenced to serve 540 months and 600 months in prison, respectively, by U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez of the Southern District of Florida, who also ordered them to serve three years of supervised release following their prison sentence.

“The heinous acts committed by the defendants in this case provide a stark reminder that alien smuggling is inherently dangerous—and can be deadly,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski.  “But for the desperate escape of one of the victims, the defendants’ acts would have remained hidden with the bodies they left behind.  The substantial prison sentence imposed today against these two smugglers demonstrates the Department of Justice’s continuing commitment to prosecute those who violate this country’s immigration laws.”

“The defendants’ carried out a fatal human smuggling trip for which two victims paid the ultimate price,” said U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan.  “But for the strength of the surviving victim, the defendants’ brutality would have been washed away at sea.  The significant federal prison sentences imposed against the smugglers cannot bring back life but we hope can serve to thwart the dangerous business of alien smuggling.”

“These two individuals were involved in one of the most cold and callous cases investigated by HSI Miami,” said HSI Special Agent in Charge Salisbury.  “Although the sentences will not return the victims to their loved ones, it does bring justice for their friends and family.  HSI will continue to aggressively investigate, pursue and shut down these organizations that are involved in this heinous criminal act.”

According to the court record, including agreed-upon factual proffers, since 2014, Carlos Emilio Ibarguen Palacios, Jhoan Stiven Carreazo Asprilla, and their co-defendants, organized and arranged the unlawful smuggling of illegal aliens, transporting them across Colombia toward the Panamanian border, en route to the United States.  In 2016, three Cuban nationals arranged with, and paid, the defendants to transport them from Colombia to Panama, as they traveled to the United States, intending to arrive in Miami. 

On Sep. 7, 2016, during a portion of their journey, the three victims – two men and a woman – were delivered by co-defendant Fredis Valencia Palacios to a boat captained by Ibarguen Palacios.  After some delay, Ibarguen Palacios was joined by Carreazo Asprilla and they began their journey to Panama.  During the boat trip, Ibarguen Palacios and Carreazo Asprilla pulled a knife and gun, respectively, on the victims.  Ibarguen Palacios tied the wrists of the two male passengers and then threw them overboard, anchoring them with rope to the inside of the boat.  The surviving male victim reported that he heard Ibarguen Palacios and Carreazo Asprilla sexually assault the female victim before cutting her throat and murdering her.  The surviving victim also heard Ibarguen Palacios and Carreazo Asprilla cut the other male victim’s throat, killing him.  While his fellow travelers were being murdered, the survivor managed to free himself and escape by swimming away.  Ibarguen Palacios and Carreazo Asprilla left him for dead. 

The next day, a local fisherman discovered the survivor, who was subsequently rescued by the Colombian Navy.  The survivor directed the Colombian authorities to the place where the murders happened, and the Colombian authorities retrieved the bodies. Their throats and bellies had been cut open and they were tied up together and submerged in the water.  Shortly thereafter, Ibarguen Palacios and Carreazo Asprilla were located and arrested.

Co-defendant Valencia Palacios who assisted in arranging this smuggling event was sentenced to serve 15 years in prison on Dec. 4, 2018 before U.S. District Judge Martinez.  

This case was investigated by HSI Miami, with assistance from the HSI Bogota field office.  The Government of Colombia, including the Colombian Office of the Attorney General, provided significant assistance and support during the investigation.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided significant support with the defendants’ extradition.  The investigation was conducted under the Extraterritorial Criminal Travel Strike Force (ECT) program, a joint partnership between the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and HSI.  The ECT program focuses on human smuggling networks that may present particular national security or public safety risks, or present grave humanitarian concerns.  ECT has dedicated investigative, intelligence and prosecutorial resources.  ECT coordinates and receives assistance from other U.S. government agencies and foreign law enforcement authorities. 

Trial Attorney Danielle Hickman of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Dobbins of the Southern District of Florida prosecuted the case.