A Honduran national pleaded guilty today to his role in a scheme to illegally bring Honduran nationals to, and to distribute cocaine in, the United States.

According to court documents, beginning in 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 (HSI) 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 (HRSP) are prosecuting the case.

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The investigation is being conducted under Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA), 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.

Since its creation, JTFA has successfully increased coordination and collaboration between the Justice Department, DHS, and other interagency law enforcement participants, and with foreign law enforcement partners, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico; targeted those organizations who have the most impact on the United States; and coordinated significant smuggling indictments and extradition efforts in U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country. JTFA is comprised of detailees from southwest border U.S. 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 components of the Criminal Division 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 Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS), the Office of Enforcement Operations (OEO), the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs (OIA), and the Organized Crime and Gang Section (OCGS). JTFA is made possible by substantial law enforcement investment from DHS, FBI, DEA, and other partners.

The investigation is also supported by the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), as well as 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.