Miami, Florida - A Colombian national was sentenced to 180 months in prison for his role 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 Mark Selby of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Miami Field Office made the announcement.
Fredis Valencia Palacios, 30, a Colombian national extradited to the United States in April 2018 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. Valencia Palacios was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez of the Southern District of Florida, who also ordered him to serve three years of supervised release following his prison sentence.
“When Valencia Palacios conspired to smuggle illegal aliens into the United States, he launched them on a deadly journey during which one was sexually assaulted and murdered, another also was brutally murdered, and a third was left for dead in the water,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski. “Today’s sentence once again demonstrates the Department of Justice’s commitment to hold accountable those who violate U.S. immigration laws.”
“The 15-year federal prison sentence imposed today against Fredis Valencia Palacios is a reminder to all that the high seas do not protect criminals from prosecution in the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan. “When human smugglers knowingly plan to violate U.S. immigration laws and expose illegal aliens to grave danger during their arduous journey, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, with the assistance of our domestic and foreign law enforcement partners, stand ready to prosecute the offenders on American soil.”
“This case highlights the tragic perils involved with illegal alien smuggling,” said HSI Miami Special Agent in Charge Mark Selby. “While exploiting human cargo for pure greed, this was a horrific tragedy resulting in sexual assault and two deaths. HSI continues to aggressively target and dismantle transnational criminal organizations that profit from the suffering of individuals.”
According to the court record, including agreed-upon factual proffers, since 2014, Valencia Palacios, and his co-defendants, including Jhoan Stiven Carreazo Asprilla and Carlos Emilio Ibarguen Palacios, 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 Valencia Palacios to a boat captained by his co-defendants to begin their journey to Panama. During the boat trip, the co-defendants pulled a knife and a gun on the victims. One of the co-defendants 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 the co-defendants sexually assault the female victim before cutting her throat and murdering her. The surviving victim also heard the co-defendants cut the other male victim’s throat, killing him. While that was happening, the survivor managed to free himself and escape by swimming away. The co-defendants 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. The co-defendants were subsequently located and arrested.
Carreazo Asprilla and Ibarguen Palacios are scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 4, 2019 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.