AN ERITREAN national, who is also a citizen of the United Kingdom, was sentenced today (16) to three years in prison for smuggling up to 99 undocumented migrants from Eritrea and Ethiopia into the United States.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. of the District of Columbia, and Special Agent in Charge Clark E. Settles of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations’ (ICE-HSI) Washington, D.C., Field Office made the announcement. U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton of the District of Columbia imposed the sentence.
Habtom Merhay, 47, of the United Kingdom, pleaded guilty to human smuggling charges on Sept. 24, 2014. He was originally arrested by Moroccan authorities in August 2013 and extradited to the United States on April 25, 2014. He has been in custody since his arrest.
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In his plea agreement, Merhay admitted that from May 2009 to September 2010, he operated a human smuggling scheme from his residence in Dubai. In exchange for fees of up to $14,000, he smuggled undocumented African migrants into the United States by purchasing airline tickets for their travel to South and Central America, and then coordinating with a global network of smugglers to facilitate the migrants’ travel into the United States.
The investigation was pursued under 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 with and receives assistance from other U.S. government agencies and foreign law enforcement authorities.
The investigation was led by HSI’s Washington, D.C., Field Office with the support of the Human Smuggling Trafficking Center and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center. The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney Jay Bauer of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Frederick Yette of the District of Columbia. The extradition was handled by Trial Attorney Dan E. Stigall of the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs.
The Department of Justice and HSI expressed their appreciation for the significant assistance provided by the Moroccan Ministry of Justice.