3-time smuggler gets 5 years in prison for transporting 6 people into U.S. illegally

A Tucson-area man was sentenced to 60 months in prison earlier this month after pleading guilty to transporting six people into the U.S. illegally for profit, authorities said.

Clifford Valisto, 63, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge John C. Hinderaker during a hearing on Dec. 15. Valisto faces another year in prison for violating conditions of his federal supervised release garnered from a previous smuggling conviction. Hinderaker also sentenced Valisto to three years supervised release, said Zach J. Stoebe, a Justice Department spokesman.

On July 19, Valisto picked up six undocumented non-citizens, including a
15-year-old boy traveling without his parents or guardians, in a 1998 Ford F-150. As Valisto drove along the highway, passengers said he appeared intoxicated, struggled to control his
truck and appeared to be falling asleep before he reached the
checkpoint near Three Points, west of Tucson, according to court documents.

As soon as he spoke to a Border Patrol agent, he “blurted out that everyone inside the vehicle were
citizens,” according to federal complaint filed against him. The BP agent noted all six passengers were wearing yellow vests, and he asked one passenger his citizenship. 

“The person did not answer and looked straight ahead,” according to court records. The agent said a front passenger was holding a construction hard hat over a camouflage backpack, and sent the vehicle to a secondary inspection area. There all six passengers were identified as undocumented non-citizens, including two men — Alex Perez-Mejia and Edgar Mejia-Cuyuch — who were Guatemalan citizens in the country without authorization.

Perez told officials his father arranged for him to be smuggled into the U.S. for 150,000 Guatemalan quetzals, or about $19,000. He crossed the U.S.-Mexico on foot with at least nine others, following a guide for about 15 to 20 minutes before they were picked up by a white F-150 driven by Valisto, according to court records. 

They were driven to a mobile home and Perez took a nap for 45 minutes before smugglers rousted him, rushing him and the others in his group to two waiting trucks. The group was split into a group of six and a group of four, and Perez got into Valisto’s truck. According to court records, Perez said Valisto “smelled and appeared intoxicated.”

As Valisto drove, he swerved and appeared to be falling asleep, Perez told officials. As they arrived at the checkpoint, Valisto gave them instructions, but Perez said the group “could not understand what he was saying” and they were all arrested.

Mejia said the same thing, telling officials he paid 150,000 quetzals and crossed into the U.S. before he was driven by Valisto to the checkpoint, according to court records. 

Valisto pleaded guilty in October to transporting people in the country without authorization for profit, including Perez, Mejia, and a 15-year-old boy identified only as S.R-R. 

He said he knew they were in the country without authorization and intended to help them to remain in the U.S., and he expected to be paid for this effort. This is the third time Valisto has faced federal charges for human smuggling.

According to his plea agreement, he was convicted of conspiracy to transport people August 2011 and again in January 2019.

Border Patrol conducted the investigation, and the United States Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona in Tucson, handled the prosecution, Stoebe said.