Phoenix sisters sentenced for property rental scheme catering to human smugglers and other criminals


PHOENIX – October 12, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — A Phoenix-area property manager who previously pleaded guilty to harboring illegal aliens has been sentenced to 33 months in prison for her role in a far-reaching scheme to rent out residences to human smugglers, drug traffickers and others involved in criminal activity.

Marycela Rivas, 36 of Avondale, appeared in federal court Thursday. Rivas’ sister and primary accomplice, Leticia Montano aka Leticia Rivas, 42, of Phoenix, was sentenced Sept. 30 to 63 months in prison followed by three years’ supervised release. Montano pleaded guilty July 28, 2014, to conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens. The sentences stem from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Glendale and Phoenix police departments.

Between 2008 and 2013, Montano, a licensed realtor, managed 279 residences through several companies she owned and operated, including Sol Realty, Metro North Realty and AZ Home Property Management. The evidence presented at sentencing revealed that Montano and her employees, including her sister Marycela, would charge non-qualifying renters extremely high fees in order to rent a property. In exchange, Montano would provide the documentation needed to finalize the rental order, such as personal identification, pay stubs, proof of current employment and proof of residency, in order to conceal the true identity of the renter from the home owner and law enforcement.

“By aiding human smugglers and other known criminals through this rental scheme, these women profited at the expense of the public’s safety,” said Matthew C. Allen, special agent in charge of HSI Phoenix. “These lengthy prison sentences should act as a warning to others who are considering colluding with criminals about the severe consequences of their actions.”
The evidence presented also revealed that criminal activity, including drug smuggling and human smuggling, occurred at dozens of properties rented by Montano’s companies. A sampling of approximately 45 houses investigated by various law enforcement agencies in the Phoenix area, led to the discovery of over 230 illegal aliens, nearly two tons of marijuana, more than 36 pounds of methamphetamine, over 75 pounds of cocaine, multiple stolen firearms, and fake identity documents. In some of the houses, the aliens being harbored reported they had been beaten, stabbed, sodomized, and otherwise assaulted by the smugglers in attempts to coerce higher smuggling fees from the smuggled aliens’ families.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa E. Jennis, District of Phoenix, Arizona, prosecuted this case.


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