Three Colombian nationals have pleaded guilty to a four-count federal indictment in the Southern District of Florida stemming from 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 Mark Selby of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Miami Field Office made the announcement.

Carlos Emilio Ibarguen Palacios, 27, pleaded guilty today before the Honorable Darrin P. Gayles of the Southern District of Florida to one count of conspiracy to encourage and induce aliens to come to the United 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.  Fredis Valencia Palacios, 30, pleaded guilty on Sept. 25, 2018 and Jhoan Stiven Carreazo Asprilla, 23, pleaded guilty on Oct. 24, 2018 before the Honorable Jose E. Martinez of the Southern District of Florida to the same charges. 

The three defendants, all Colombian nationals, were previously extradited to the United States in 2017 and 2018 to face these charges. 

“These defendants’ depraved acts—which included sexually assaulting and murdering one victim, cutting the throat of a second, and leaving a third for dead in the ocean—underscore the dangers inherent in alien smuggling,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski.  “This prosecution of three smugglers from Colombia reflects our resolve to bring to justice those who exploit our immigration laws and prey upon aliens seeking to illegally enter the United States.”

“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.”

“Today’s guilty plea by Ibarguen Palacios brings to justice another defendant in one of the most horrific cases investigated by HSI Miami,” said HSI Special Agent in Charge Selby.  “This is exactly what we are constantly warning the public of when it comes to the dangers of human smuggling.  Although these pleas 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, Valencia Palacios, Carreazo Asprilla, and Ibarguen Palacios, and their co-defendant 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 Ibarguen Palacios, and Carreazo Asprilla, to begin their journey to Panama.  During the boat trip, Ibarguen Palacios and Carreazo Asprilla pulled a knife and a 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 that was happening, 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.  The co-defendants were subsequently located and arrested.

Sentencing is scheduled for Valencia Palacios on Nov. 28, and for Carreazo Asprilla and Ibarguen Palacios on Jan, 4, 2019, all 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. 

This case is being prosecuted by 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.

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