Pharr fugitive who fled before trial captured, returned to US

McALLEN — A Pharr man who went on the run before the start of his federal trial was captured by Mexican authorities and returned to the United States last Friday, according to a news release from the FBI.

Luis Gerardo Betancourt was last in seen in the McAllen federal court in early 2017, months before the start of his federal trial related to allegations of hostage taking and bringing in and harboring a person unauthorized to be in the country, according to court records.

On Monday, FBI officials announced they had returned Betancourt to the country after Mexican authorities captured him in October 2017 — about three months after U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced Betancourt to life in prison in absentia — in connection with the hostage and harboring charges, court records show.

In the statement, FBI officials said Betancourt was returned Feb. 2 and placed in U.S. custody at a port of entry in Laredo.

“The apprehension and return of the defendant highlights the outstanding law enforcement collaboration among agencies in the United States and Mexico, and demonstrates the bilateral tenacity involved with bringing those who threaten our communities to justice,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs, of the San Antonio division, said in a prepared statement.

During the five-day trial, which took place last July without Betancourt, the government called more than 20 witnesses including Betancourt’s co-defendants — Luis Enrique Perez-Talavera and Jonathan Carlos Valdez-Harris.

Jurors found the 21-year-old man guilty of one count of hostage taking, and one count of bringing in and harboring aliens after about three hours of deliberations.

The trial was related to a December 2015 incident where Betancourt threatened to harm a woman’s child if she didn’t come up with money for her transport into the country and back to her, court records show.

“On Dec. 1, 2015, (Betancourt) contacted the (unidentified Mexican woman) and stated her daughter and a friend were transported to the U.S. and that (the woman) would need to deposit the remaining fees for her daughter and the three others being transported with her daughter,” the complaint shows. “(The woman) explained to (Betancourt) the amount of money (Betancourt) was asking for was more than (she) had agreed to.”

The communication between Betancourt and the woman took place from Dec. 1-4.

“(Betancourt) told (the woman) to do whatever she needed to do in order to get the money, and if (she) did not, they would kill (her) daughter,” the complaint states, further reading that Betancourt contacted the woman two days later and demanded $18,000 or he would sell her 8-year-old daughter for that amount.

Four days after the woman’s ordeal started, federal agents located and arrested Betancourt at his home in the 7600 block of Blanca Road in Pharr, the criminal complaint states.

Perez-Talavera and Valdez-Harris pleaded guilty to one count each of bringing in and harboring in March 2016, court records show.