Convicted human smuggler who held teen for ransom sentenced to nearly three years in prison

A Pima County man was sentenced Wednesday to 340 years in prison for the sexual exploitation of a minor under 15 years of age thanks, in part, to an investigation by HSI.

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PHOENIX – A convicted human smuggler from Mexico who held a teenage boy for ransom was sentenced Monday to 30 months in federal prison, following a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Pedro Chavez-Bautista, 35, pleaded guilty June 28 to one count of human smuggling. The sentence was imposed by U.S. District Judge Murray Snow, who also ordered the defendant, who had been imprisoned since December, to serve an additional eight months for violating the conditions of his supervised release.

The criminal probe targeting Chavez-Bautista began Dec. 18, 2015, after Los Angeles-based HSI special agents received a tip from their local law enforcement counterparts about a possible ransom situation involving 17-year-old Salvadoran male who was possibly being held hostage in Phoenix. HSI Los Angeles learned the family had already paid $4,500 in smuggling fees and the smuggler was demanding an additional $4,000 for the youth’s release.

HSI Los Angeles alerted HSI Phoenix about the unfolding situation. In the ensuing days, the smuggler’s demands escalated. In a telephone conversation with the teen’s mother, the defendant told her she was, “playing with her son’s life” if the extra payment was not made. Four days later, through a variety of investigative techniques, HSI special agents located Chavez-Bautista and his teenage hostage at a Phoenix tire shop. As Chavez-Bautista left the business, investigators conducted a traffic stop, resulting in the teen’s rescue and Chavez-Bautista’s arrest.

“HSI is committed to aggressively targeting human smugglers and smuggling organizations that have no qualms about using threats and even violence to collect their smuggling fees,” Bradford A. Bench, interim special agent in charge for HSI Phoenix, said. “We’ll continuing working jointly with our law enforcement partners to ensure that those who exploit people in these ruthless and despicable ways will themselves face serious consequences.”

The investigation ultimately determined Chavez-Bautista had no additional hostages in Phoenix. This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney James K. Knapp with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona.