Human smuggling recruiter sentenced to one year, one day

A 22-year-old woman was sentenced to a year and one day in prison earlier this month for recruiting and managing drivers who worked to smuggle people into the U.S.

Destiney Rae Montoya was sentenced during a Nov. 7 hearing in front of U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins after she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport illegal aliens for profit in August. Montoya will be on probation for three years, Collins ruled.

Montoya was indicted by a grand jury in March who said she and Keidy
Yareli Rivera-Villa knowingly conspired to transport and move people across the Arizona-Mexico border. A warrant was issued for her arrest on Jan. 25, and she was picked up in Phoenix by federal agents a few days later, according to court records.

From April 2021 to Sept. 6, 2021, Montoya advertised jobs to smuggle people from Mexico and instructed drivers on picking up aliens and bringing them to Phoenix. 

Montoya used social media to ” solicit and advertise” for drivers to assist with smuggling people further into the United States, said Zach J. Stoebe, a Justice Department spokesman. “Federal agents executed multiple warrants enabling them to trace Montoya’s illegal conduct and communications to establish her as a coordinator,” he said.

In a signed plea agreement, Montoya said she would give recruited drivers directions, pickup and drop-off locations, and arrange payments. In her role as a coordinator, Montoya helped smuggle dozens of people, who were later identified and tracked by federal agents. She knew they were in the country illegally, and intended to help them remain in the U.S. unlawfully, according to the agreement.

Montoya said she was a manager or supervisor and worked with Rivera-Villa, and at least five other people to smuggle people into the U.S.

Rivera-Villa was arrested in Camp Verde by federal agents in February, and was set to face a jury trial in mid-October, however this was delayed following a hearing on Oct. 10.

Over the last year, federal agents and prosecutors have pushed to break up the networks that help smuggle people into the U.S. through Arizona by targeting recruiters and coordinators.

In Sept., federal officials extradited a 61-year-old Mexican woman to Arizona to face more than a dozen federal charges linked to her role in a smuggling organization.

Federal officials called Ofelia Hernandez-Salas a “prolific human smuggler,” who regularly brought people across the U.S.-Mexico border near Yuma. Hernandez-Salas was arrested in Mexico in March after a grand jury indicted her and 48-year-old Raul Saucedo-Huipio on 23 counts, including conspiracy to bring people into the U.S. and aiding and abetting people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without authorization.

Weeks earlier, prosecutors indicted 22 people as part of a larger network that moved people across the border using Snapchat. The organization used the app’s “Story posts” to recruit drivers, often glamorizing smuggling, federal officials said.

In one post, provided as an example by federal officials, one smuggling coordinator posted to Snapchat that anyone trying to find a way to make major money should contact them to drive, or recruit someone in their stead to drive.

The post promised $3,000 to $20,000 for a “few hours of driving,” or for recruiting someone who can drive.

And, over the summer, U.S. Attorney Gary M. Restaino held a press conference to announce the arrest and extradition of a Honduran woman, who is accused of working as a “high-level” coordinator for a human smuggling ring, earning millions in the process.