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.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

Insomnia in the summer may be due to Arizona heat, doctor says...

Serena O'Sullivan

Struggling with insomnia? Arizona summer heat may be to blame, sleep expert says

Arizonans who are dealing with insomnia in the summer months can blame the heat, according to a sleep expert with Banner Health.

3 hours ago

The Maricopa County Recorder’s Office website is now offering a virtual tour of the Maricopa Coun...

Maricopa County Recorder’s Office website offers self-guided virtual tour of elections center

The Maricopa County Recorder's Office website is now offering a virtual tour of the downtown Phoenix elections center.

4 hours ago

Desert tortoises: Do not disturb, AZGFD warns the public...

Wildlife officials warn against disturbing wild desert tortoises

The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) urges the public to keep desert tortoises wild.

4 hours ago

Banner Imaging and HeartFlow are collaborating to offer a new program to help new patients detect c...

Banner selected to test Medicare dementia care model

The model will work to increase care coordination and improve access to services and supports, which includes respite care, people living with dementia and their caregivers.

4 hours ago


Police investigating fatal overnight hit-and-run in central Phoenix

Phoenix PD responded to the area of 19th Avenue and Van Buren Street regarding a collision that involved a pedestrian.

11 hours ago

Pickleball paddle with ball laying on court...

Payne Moses

Chandler progressing toward construction of pickleball, tennis courts at Tumbleweed Park

Chandler City Council approved a construction services agreement to ignite a pickleball and tennis court project at Tumbleweed Park, the town entity recently announced.

12 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Beat the heat, ensure your AC unit is summer-ready

With temperatures starting to rise across the Valley, now is a great time to be sure your AC unit is ready to withstand the sweltering summer heat.



Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.

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