ARIZONA NEWS

Leader of Arizona human smuggling operation sentenced to 10 years in prison

May 29, 2024, 8:00 PM

Honduran woman sentenced to over 10 years for human smuggling...

Maria Mendoza-Mendoza, 52, pleaded guilty to human smuggling, prosecutors said. (Getty Images photo)

(Getty Images photo)

PHOENIX — A Honduran woman was sentenced to 10 years of prison on Tuesday after pleading guilty to human smuggling, authorities said.

A judge sentenced 52-year-old Maria Mendoza-Mendoza to 120 months in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona.

She led a criminal organization that smuggled over 100 migrants from Honduras to the U.S., prosecutors said.

Many of these migrants were taken to stash houses operated in Phoenix, authorities said.

Mendoza-Mendoza preyed on the vulnerable migrants by threatening them, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona.

Honduran woman threatened migrants she smuggled, prosecutors say

Mendoza-Mendoza used threats to intimidate migrants into paying their smuggling fees, prosecutors said.

Her organization used funnel accounts to collect millions of dollars in smuggling fees, authorities said.

Mendoza-Mendoza allegedly detained migrants in the Phoenix stash houses until they paid, using threats and intimidation to get her way.

For example, she once said a migrant whose family didn’t pay his smuggling fee should be thrown “back in the desert,” prosecutors said.

Mendoza was indicted in January 2018 before her extradition from Honduras to the U.S. in June 2023.

Officials said the Honduran woman also went by the nickname “La Guera,” which loosely translates to “white girl.”

Mendoza-Mendoza’s crimes were insidious, according to Fransisco B. Burrola, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations.

“Human smugglers do nothing but prey on vulnerable people who at times pay with their lives while crossing the border,” Burrola said in a news release. “Let this sentencing serve as a warning to other smugglers contemplating their continued participation: Prison awaits you.”

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Leader of Arizona human smuggling operation sentenced to 10 years in prison