Woman guilty of running migrant smuggling ring

Friday, May 9, 2003

MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- A Nicaraguan woman was found guilty Thursday on charges of running a vast smuggling ring that helped thousands of illegal South American migrants pass through Nicaragua and on to the United States.

Enma Urania Laguna Maldonado and two other Nicaraguans, Denis Eladio Diaz Arauz and Rene Montenegro Blandon, were convicted in Chinandega, 60 miles west of Managua, the capital.

No date was set for sentencing, but prosecutor Elifha Bonilla said the defendants each face at least eight years in prison.

Laguna Maldonado, 38, and the others were arrested by Interpol agents in December in a town outside Managua. They were among Nicaragua's most-wanted fugitives.

U.S. authorities accused Laguna Maldonado of running a smuggling ring that helped bring illegal migrants from Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and other South American countries to Nicaragua.

Nicaraguan and U.S. authorities had long alleged that Laguna Maldonado furnished migrants arriving in Nicaragua with false travel documents, then arranged to bus them to the Pacific coasts of Honduras and El Salvador.

From there, gangs of smugglers on Laguna Maldonado's payroll used a series of small boats to take migrants to northern Mexico, then helped them cross into U.S. territory, prosecutors alleged.

Laguna Maldonado's group also used alternative routes that flew illegal migrants from Nicaragua to the Caribbean and onto the United States, authorities said.

In a statement released at the time of her arrest, the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua said Laguna Maldonado had been Nicaragua's principal migrant smuggler for a decade and that her network was responsible for aiding more than half of all illegal immigrants who passed through Nicaragua on their way to the United States.

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