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Alien Smuggling Foot Guide Convicted of Smuggling Offenses After a Migrant in His Care Died

TUCSON, Ariz. – On Tuesday, a federal jury in Tucson convicted Jesus Ernesto Dessens-Romero, 27, of Agua Prieta, Mexico, of multiple alien smuggling offenses, including Conspiracy to Transport and Transportation of Illegal Aliens for Profit and Bringing in Illegal Aliens to the United States for Profit.

The jury also found that Dessens-Romero placed human life in jeopardy during and in relation to his alien smuggling offenses. Each of the alien smuggling convictions carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. A conviction for Bringing in Illegal Aliens to the United States for Profit carries a mandatory minimum penalty of 5 years in prison.

United States District Court Judge John C. Hinderaker will determine the sentence after considering the United States Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. The sentencing date is set for February 22, 2024. Evidence presented at trial established that Dessens-Romero was the human smuggling foot guide for five Mexican nationals who illegally crossed into the United States on or about February 13, 2021.

The group included three sisters – ages 23, 20, and 17 – and their family friend, age 16. Dessens-Romero led the individuals under his care into the rugged and remote Huachuca Mountains near Fort Huachuca in Southern Arizona. He led the group on a perilous route due to less law enforcement presence. The group had limited food and water, and at night, suffered through serious weather conditions including cold and snow.

By February 15, 2021, the 23-year-old sister was in significant physical distress. She was unable to eat or walk or follow simple commands. Dessens-Romero told the group that they were close enough to a traveled roadway where the sick woman could be found if the group left her. Dessens-Romero did not call emergency services. Instead, he located cell phone reception at higher ground in order to call a transnational criminal smuggling organization. Dessens-Romero then led the rest of the group to Sierra Vista where they were picked up by unidentified co-conspirators and transported further into the United States.

The family of the woman left behind contacted authorities on February 16, 2021, to report a missing person. Despite extensive search efforts by United States Border Patrol, military officials from Fort Huachuca, Cochise County Sheriff’s Department, and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), she was not located. In the months following, HSI worked collaboratively with SOS Búsqueda y Rescate, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding missing migrants, to continue searching for the missing woman. On November 20, 2021, members of SOS Búsqueda y Rescate located skeletal remains in an isolated area of the Huachuca Mountains, on Fort Huachuca property. Dental records confirmed that the remains belonged to the missing 23-year-old sister.

At trial, additional evidence confirmed that Dessens-Romero continued to smuggle undocumented non-citizens within the United States until June of 2021. This evidence included WhatsApp messages setting up the transportation of aliens to various locations within the United States, including the transportation of two aliens through Tennessee. Dessens-Romero was arrested on June 30, 2021, by Tennessee Highway Patrol while transporting these two individuals.

This prosecution resulted from the coordinated efforts of Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA). The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona is part of JTFA, which was established by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in June 2021 to marshal the investigative and prosecutorial resources of the Department of Justice, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to enhance U.S. enforcement efforts against the most prolific and dangerous human smuggling and trafficking groups operating in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The Task Force focuses on disrupting and dismantling smuggling and trafficking networks that abuse, exploit, or endanger migrants, pose national security threats, and are involved in organized crime.

Homeland Security Investigations-Douglas office conducted the investigation in this case, in coordination with the Fort Huachuca Army Criminal Investigation Division, the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, HSI-Nashville office, and the Tennessee Highway Patrol. The United States Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona, Tucson, handled the prosecution.

Source: United States Attorney Office’s