2 South Florida residents sentenced for taking illegal alien hostage for unpaid smuggling fees

SARASOTA, Fla. - Two Miami-Dade county residents were sentenced in federal court on June 17 for hostage taking and transportation of illegal aliens, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the FBI and the Manatee County Sheriff's Office (MCSO).

Erisbel Artiles, 31, a Cuban national residing in Hialeah, Fla., was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bucklew to 121 months in federal prison for hostage taking.

Artiles's mother, Lazara Z. Moreira-Penin, 54, also a Cuban national residing in Hialeah, was sentenced by Judge Bucklew to one year in prison for conspiracy to transport illegal aliens.

"This case demonstrates the serious consequences for human smuggling and is another great example of the cooperation and ability to work together that exists in Florida between state, local and federal law enforcement," said Susan McCormick, ICE special agent in charge in Tampa, Fla. "Human smugglers have a callous disregard for the value of human life and are only concerned about making a profit."

According to court records, on Sept. 2, 2009, ICE special agents assigned to the ICE Sarasota office received a request for assistance from MCSO on a human smuggling incident involving a hostage situation of an undocumented illegal alien from Guatemala. A Guatemalan citizen illegally present in the United States contacted MCSO deputies and reported that an alien smuggler was holding his 30-year-old brother, "Cesar," for an unpaid smuggling fee. The complainant and a third sibling had contracted with alien smugglers to transport Cesar from Guatemala to Florida. They paid smuggling fees first to a smuggler in Guatemala to transport Cesar illegally into the United States through Texas and then to Artiles to transport Cesar from Texas to Brandenton, Fla.

When Artiles arrived with Cesar in Manatee County to meet the complainant, Artiles demanded more money before he would release Cesar, the hostage victim. The complainant could not pay, and Artiles fled the scene without releasing Cesar. The complainant then called Artiles and told Artiles that he would pay the new fee, but Artiles raised the price again saying that he had to wire money to Moreira-Penin and that if the complainant could not pay, he would never see his brother again.

On Sept. 5, the Brandenton resident received a phone call from Moreira-Penin and another co-conspirator indicating they would be at the drop location later in the morning.

Moreira-Penin eventually delivered Cesar at a gas station in Bradenton where ICE agents along with MCSO officers arrested her and recovered Cesar without incident. Artiles was arrested in Miami at a later date.

The investigation was conducted by ICE's Office of Homeland Security Investigations in Sarasota, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, the Miami Violent Crimes Task Force and the Southwest Florida Violent Crimes Task Force consisting of the Bradenton Police Department, the Sarasota Police Department, and the Sarasota FBI Office.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald L. Hansen.

For more information, visit www.ice.gov.