The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Arizona has seized cash from the owners of five Mesa motels accused of operating as safe houses for human smuggling.
Property seizures could come next, depending on the outcome of ongoing criminal trials.
The owners of six motels on Main Street were charged in November with conspiring to harbor illegal immigrants after a nine-month undercover investigation in which agents posed as smugglers wanting to rent rooms to hold illegal immigrants.
Federal investigators threatened to seize five of the motels, but U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Ann Harwood said those seizures cannot happen unless a defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty in court.
One motel named in the investigation — Centebar Suites and Apartments — has not had anything seized.
Harwood could not estimate how long the criminal cases could take to complete, but similar cases have taken years. “It really is very case dependent,” she said. “These take a lot of investigation.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office seized more than half a million dollars from the five motels combined in January and February. If the owners are convicted, they could face 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine besides having their properties seized.