Man found guilty of smuggling charges after leaving woman to die in southern Arizona

Dec 4, 2023, 10:02 AM

Migrants seen walking through the desert to enter into the United States....

A federal jury last week found a Mexican man guilty of smuggling charges after he left a woman to die in southern Arizona while transporting migrants into the United States in 2021. (AP File Photo/Gregory Bull)

(AP File Photo/Gregory Bull)

PHOENIX — A federal jury last week found a Mexican man guilty of smuggling charges after he left a woman to die in southern Arizona while transporting migrants into the United States in 2021, authorities said.

Jesus Ernesto Dessens-Romero, 27, of Agua Prieta, Mexico, was convicted on Nov. 28 of conspiracy to transport, transportation of migrants for profit and bringing migrants to the country for profit, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona said.

A conviction for bringing migrants into the country for profit carries a mandatory minimum penalty of 5 years in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 22.

What is the story behind the Mexican guide’s human smuggling conviction?

Prosecutors said Dessens-Romero was guiding five Mexican nationals, including three sisters and their family friend, through a perilous route into the country on or about Feb. 13, 2021. The group traveled through the remote Huachuca Mountains near Fort Huachuca in southern Arizona, where they had limited food and water available and were dealing with the cold and snow.

On Feb. 15, 2021, one of the sisters, a 23-year-old who was the eldest, was in physical distress, which led to Dessens-Romero advising the group that she would be found if she were left at a traveled roadway.

Prosecutors said Dessens-Romero found cell phone reception, and instead of him calling for help from authorities, he called a transnational criminal smuggling organization. The group left the sister and was led to Sierra Vista, where unidentified co-conspirators picked them up and took them further into the country.

The woman’s family reported her as a missing person on Feb. 16, 2021, but despite an extensive investigation and assistance from multiple agencies, the 23-year-old woman was not found until months later on Nov. 20, 2021, by members of SOS Búsqueda y Rescate.

Prosecutors said Dessens-Romero continued to smuggle migrants into the country until June 2021. He was arrested on June 30, 2021, by the Tennessee Highway Patrol while transporting two migrants.

Prosecution in this case resulted from efforts by Joint Task Force Alpha, which was established in June 2021 with a focus on dismantling smuggling and trafficking networks that abuse, exploit or endanger migrants.

The Douglas Office of Homeland Security Investigations investigated the case in coordination with the Fort Huachuca Army Criminal Investigation Division, the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, the Nashville Office of HSI and the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

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Man found guilty of smuggling charges after leaving woman to die in southern Arizona