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  3. Human Smuggling Ringleader Convicted of Smuggling, Money Laundering Following HSI Sells Investigation; 17 Co-Conspirators Already Convicted and Sentenced

Human Smuggling Ringleader Convicted of Smuggling, Money Laundering Following HSI Sells Investigation; 17 Co-Conspirators Already Convicted and Sentenced

Release Date: March 8, 2024

SELLS, Ariz. — A Phoenix man was sentenced Feb. 28 to four years in prison followed by three years of supervised for leading a Phoenix-based human smuggling organization. Homeland Security Investigations investigated the case.

“Targeting smugglers who prey on human beings remains a top priority for HSI,” said HSI Arizona Special Agent in Charge Fransisco B. Burrola. “Human smugglers show a callous disregard for the value of life. Because of this, we will continue to aggressively pursue these human smugglers who put the lives of others in jeopardy for financial gain.”

Tony Cardenas, 36, of Phoenix, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport and harbor illegal aliens for profit and conspiracy to commit money laundering on Nov. 17, 2023. Cardenas and 18 co-conspirators were indicted in November 2021 following an investigation by HSI Sells and IRS Criminal Investigation.

In June 2018, special agents with HSI Sells began investigating Cardenas and his human smuggling organization. During the investigation, agents discovered that undocumented noncitizens were being moved from Central America and Mexico to the Tohono O’odham Nation, where they were directed to nearby stash houses or picked up and taken to stash houses in the Tucson and Phoenix areas.

Using Phoenix as a hub, the human smuggling organization held undocumented noncitizens in Phoenix until final payment was received. After payments were made, the undocumented noncitizens were driven to their final destinations throughout the United States. A financial investigation conducted by the IRS identified numerous co-conspirators who were using their bank accounts and money service businesses to channel over $1 million back to the smuggling organization in Arizona. Seventeen co-conspirators with ties to the Cardenas human smuggling organization have been convicted of human smuggling and money laundering. The final co-conspirator is scheduled to be sentenced on March 28, 2024.

This effort is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multiagency approach. You can find additional information about the OCDETF Program at https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the District of Arizona in Tucson Craig Russell and Fred Cocio prosecuted the case.

Last Updated: 04/22/2024
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