Foreign national pleads guilty to his role in international human smuggling operation and cocaine distribution scheme

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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 documents, beginning as early as January 2021, Josue Flores-Villeda, 36, and six co-conspirators schemed to bring Honduran nationals and cocaine from Honduras to the United States. In February 2022, Villeda and his co-conspirators attempted to illegally bring 23 Honduran nationals and at least 24 kilograms of cocaine from Utila, Honduras, to Cocodrie, Louisiana, by boat. At some point, the vessel developed engine trouble in the Gulf of Mexico. Villeda and his co-conspirators then chartered a boat and attempted to bring fuel to the disabled vessel so that it could complete its journey to the United States. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Coast Guard located the vessel adrift approximately 95 miles off the coast of Grand Isle, Louisiana, and towed it to shore.

Villeda pleaded guilty to conspiracy to unlawfully bring aliens to the United States for financial gain and conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine hydrochloride. He is scheduled to be sentenced on July 6 and faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. A federal district court judge will determine his sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

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

HSI Houma is investigating the case with assistance from HSI Pittsburgh, HSI Atlanta, and the Louisiana Bureau of Investigation. The U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air and Marine Operations, Louisiana State Police, Pennsylvania State Police, North Huntington Township Police, and Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office also provided valuable assistance.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Carter Guice and Ben Myers for the Eastern District of Louisiana and Acting Deputy Chief Rami Badawy of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section are prosecuting the case.

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