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Monday, October 06, 2014

Costa Rican Woman Pleads Guilty to Human Smuggling Conspiracy

A citizen and resident of Costa Rica pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to smuggle more than 25 undocumented immigrants to the United States.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida, and Special Agent in Charge Clark E. Settles of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) Washington, D.C., Field Office made the announcement.

Mercedes Morera Roche, 49, was extradited to the United States from Panama on Aug. 21, 2014, to face charges for smuggling more than 25 undocumented immigrants from Cuba to the United States.
According to her plea agreement, Roche admitted that between 2004 and 2011, she was an organizer of a human smuggling network that provided instructions, fraudulent identity and travel documents, escorts, transport, safe house locations, and other assistance to facilitate the illicit travel of undocumented immigrants to the United States.  Roche admitted that in some cases, she provided fraudulent passports so that undocumented immigrants could fly to the United States with the help of corrupt foreign airline and immigration officials.  Roche directed the immigrants to destroy the fraudulent documents during the flights before landing at United States airports and instructed the immigrants about engaging with authorities at the airports.  In other cases, Roche coordinated the smuggling of undocumented immigrants via land through Latin America and Mexico into the United States.  Roche solicited payments of up to $10,000 for each undocumented immigrant.

Roche’s sentencing is scheduled on Dec. 11, 2014, before U.S. District Court Judge Ursula M. Ungaro of the Southern District of Florida.

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.

The investigation was conducted by HSI’s Washington, D.C. Field Office with support from the Human Smuggling Trafficking Center and U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center.  Critical assistance was also provided by HSI’s Miami Field Office and the ICE Attaché Office in Panama.  Extradition assistance was provided by the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, Interpol Washington and the United States Marshals Service.  The Justice Department is grateful for the significant assistance provided by the Panamanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Michael Sheckels of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Emery of the Southern District of Florida.

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