Arizona

Guatemalan Migrant: Tohono Couple Demanded $1K a Night Ransom

A section of the U.S.-Mexico border on the Tohono O'odham reservation.
A section of the U.S.-Mexico border on the Tohono O'odham reservation. Ray Stern
A Tohono O'odham Nation couple took in a Guatemalan migrant who crossed into Arizona illegally from Mexico, then wouldn't let him leave until he paid $1,000 a night for his stay, a federal complaint says.

Mariano Pu-Alonzo entered the Tohono O'odham reservation at Arizona's southern border early last week and headed to a residence 23 miles to the north in the tiny town of Ali Chukson, where he believed he'd find people who would help him past the gauntlet of border patrol between there and Phoenix.

He found Leland and Michelle Hendricks, who proceeded to keep him in their home for several days against his will, he later told police, demanding that he pay $1,000 for each night. While they kept him at the home, Leland Hendricks threatened him, struck him in the chest once with an open palm, and took his cellphone, he said.

Pu-Alonzo escaped on November 28 and soon encountered Tohono O'odham police officers. After hearing the migrant's story, police went to the Hendricks' home and received consent for a search. They found Pu-Alonzo's phone and a rifle, among other things.

Leland Hendricks told police the migrant had only been at his home for one night, but he admitted hitting the man and taking his cellphone. He said he and his wife were to be paid $300 for letting the Guatemalan man stay at their home and facilitating his trip to Phoenix. He added that he knew his wife wasn't supposed to be around guns because of a prior felony conviction.

click to enlarge Ali Chukson - GOOGLE MAPS
Ali Chukson
Google Maps
Both husband and wife confessed that they believed throughout the experience that Pu-Alonzo was an unauthorized immigrant, and were subsequently charged with harboring and concealing an illegal immigrant. They were released the day after they were arrested on their own recognizance by U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco, although Michelle Hendricks' release was opposed by prosecutors.

Pu-Alonzo will be detained as a material witness in the case. He'll be provided a Quiche interpreter at the next court hearing.

The Connecticut-size reservation in southern Arizona has been a notorious smuggling zone for decades. A June 28, 2017, article in Phoenix New Times described a similar case (first reported in the Arizona Daily Star) of a Tohono woman and unidentified man who kept three migrants in a one-room cell on their property for two days until they escaped and summoned help. In that case, Rosanna Manuel was originally sentenced to five years in prison, but her sentence was later reduced to 45 months, minus time she served in jail.

(UPDATE: The government is considering a pre-indictment plea deal for Leland and Michelle Hendricks, records show.) 
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.