Weslaco man makes plea deal in deadly smuggling case

When U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers arrested Juan Enrique Escobedo-Moreno for human smuggling, they believed all victims were accounted for.

But after a more thorough check of the Weslaco man’s 2002 Kenworth tractor trailer, which he attempted to pass through the Falfurrias checkpoint, officers found the remains of another man, an unidentified Mexican national, underneath a sleeping compartment.

“When in the down position, the bed was secured with an exterior latch that would be inaccessible from inside the tool storage compartment under the bed and prevent anyone from freeing themselves,” read a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of Texas. “According to information presented in court, Escobedo-Moreno specifically instructed the victim to pull the bed down hard to make sure it would latch and stay closed.”

On Thursday, Escobedo-Moreno stood before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jason B. Libby in Corpus Christi and pleaded guilty to one count of bringing in and harboring aliens. In exchange for the guilty plea, federal prosecutors agreed to dismiss the remaining two counts of the same federal charge, court records show.

At about midnight on Oct. 3, Escobedo-Moreno, who is a permanent legal resident, told officers at the Falfurrias checkpoint he was transporting watermelons from Edinburg to Houston, according to the criminal complaint.

Officers directed him for a secondary inspection, where they found one man hiding inside a closet behind the driver’s side seat.

Escobedo-Moreno admitted to officers that he was paid $500 for “trip expenses” by a man named Jose, who had solicited him to transport someone to Houston. Jose would pay him $2,500 after the transport was complete.

According to the complaint, Escobedo-Moreno stated he was at a market in McAllen on Oct. 3, 2017, when he met a man named Jose. The complaint states that Jose asked him to take someone north to Houston, the complaint states.

“Escobedo-Moreno said he was hesitant at first but then agreed,” the complaint read.

Escobedo-Moreno, according to the complaint, told officers he then drove his tractor trailer to a warehouse in Edinburg, where it was loaded with watermelons, and made his way toward Houston.

The 45-year-old man, who remains in custody, is scheduled to be sentenced April 9 and faces up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.