Foreign National Pleads Guilty in Federal Court in Louisiana to Role in International Human Smuggling and Cocaine Distribution Scheme

Published March 31, 2023

Foreign National Pleads Guilty in Federal Court in Louisiana to Role in International Human Smuggling and Cocaine Distribution Scheme

Louisiana – A foreign national has pleaded guilty in a federal court in Louisiana to their role in international human smuggling and cocaine distribution scheme.

On March 30, 2023, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Louisiana announced that a Honduran national pleaded guilty to his role in a scheme to illegally bring Honduran nationals to and distribute cocaine in, the United States.

According to court records, Josue Flores-Villeda, 36, and six co-conspirators plotted to transfer Honduran nationals and cocaine from Honduras to the United States as early as January 2021. Villeda and his co-conspirators attempted to illegally transport 23 Honduran citizens and at least 24 kilograms of cocaine by boat from Utila, Honduras, to Cocodrie, Louisiana, in February 2022.
The vessel experienced engine issues in the Gulf of Mexico at some time. Villeda and his co-conspirators then chartered a boat and attempted to bring fuel to the damaged vessel for it to continue its journey to the United States. Shortly afterward, the U.S. The Coast Guard discovered the boat drifting about 95 miles off the coast of Grand Isle, Louisiana and pulled it to shore.

Villeda pleaded guilty to conspiracy to unlawfully bring aliens into the United States for financial gain and conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine hydrochloride.
He will be sentenced on July 6 and faces a maximum term of life in prison. After considering the United States, a federal district court judge will determine his sentence. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory considerations.

The announcement was made by the Justice Department’s Criminal Division’s Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr., U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans for the Eastern District of Louisiana, and Special Agent in Charge David Denton of the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New Orleans Field Office.

The case is being investigated by HSI Houma, with support from HSI Pittsburgh, HSI Atlanta, and the Louisiana Bureau of Investigation. The United States Coast Guard Investigative Service, United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air and Marine Operations, Louisiana State Police, Pennsylvania State Police, North Huntington Township Police, and the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office also assisted.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Carter Guice and Ben Myers for the Eastern District of Louisiana, as well as Acting Deputy Chief Rami Badawy of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP).

The investigation is being conducted under the auspices of Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA), which was established in June 2021 by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland to marshal the Department of Justice’s investigative and prosecutorial resources in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to strengthen US enforcement efforts against the most prolific and dangerous human smuggling and trafficking groups operating in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

Since its inception, the JTFA has successfully increased coordination and collaboration among the Justice Department, DHS, and other interagency law enforcement participants, as well as with foreign law enforcement partners such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico; targeted organizations with the greatest impact on the United States; and coordinated significant smuggling indictments and extradition efforts in the United States Attorney Lawyers’ offices throughout the country. JTFA is made up of detailees from the United States southwest border. Attorneys’ Offices, including the Southern District of Texas, the Western District of Texas, the District of New Mexico, the District of Arizona, and the Southern District of California, and dedicated support for the program is also provided by numerous Criminal Division components that are part of JTFA – led by the HRSP and supported by the Office of Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and Training (OPDAT), the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section (NDDS), the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section (ND (OCGS). JTFA is made possible by significant law enforcement investment from the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and other partners.

The investigation is also being assisted by the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) and the Extraterritorial Criminal Travel Strike Force (ECT) program, which is a collaboration between the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and HSI. The ECT program focuses on human smuggling networks that pose specific national security or public safety hazards, as well as major humanitarian problems. ECT has it’s own investigative, intelligence, and prosecuting teams. Several US federal agencies and foreign law enforcement entities assist and collaborate with ECT.