Mission woman granted bond in human smuggling cases

McALLEN — A Mission woman faces a minimum two years in prison for her role in an alleged smuggling ring.

Maria Navarrete-De Grubich faced a magistrate judge Monday in connection with two different human smuggling cases, in which the government alleges she helped move more than 100 undocumented immigrants, court records show.

During her detention hearing Monday afternoon, U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter E. Ormsby granted Navarrete a $70,000 bond with a $5,000 deposit.

Before Ormsby made his decision, the court acknowledged the 53-year-old woman’s strong ties to the community, including her legal permanent status and her two U.S.-born daughters, who were in the courtroom to support her.

The first case allegedly connected to Navarrete stems from the arrest in late January of more than 55 undocumented people inside a semi-trailer at the Falfurrias checkpoint, according to a criminal complaint filed against Navarrete.

“On Jan. 20, 2018, U.S. Border Patrol agents encountered a white 2004 Freightliner semi-tractor hauling a white Wabash trailer as it approached the primary inspection lanes at the Falfurrias U.S. Border Patrol Checkpoint,” the complaint states. “During the primary immigration inspection, a department canine alerted to the semi-tractor and trailer.”

During the subsequent search, agents found 57 undocumented immigrants concealed within the trailer.

It was during interviews and searches of the undocumented immigrants that agents were able to identify a cellphone number connected to Navarrete, the complaint states.

“Agents were able to show several (undocumented immigrants) a photo lineup and three (of them) were able to identify Maria Navarrete-De Grubich as a stash house caretaker and the person who transported them to the semi-tractor and trailer,” court documents show.

One undocumented man, hailing from Guatemala, said the woman transported him and four other persons to a stash house where they remained for about a week.

Another man, from Mexico, said Navarrete would drop off groceries nightly and transport people at the stash house to other locations, the complaint states.

This initial case put Navarrete on notice with Department of Homeland Security Investigation agents.

About four months later, HSI agents, who were watching Navarrete, observed her outside a residence in Mission unloading groceries from her pickup truck.

“HSI McAllen noted several five-gallon size water jugs in the bed of the truck,” the complaint states.

After observing Navarrete driving from one stash house to another, agents arrested the woman as she made her way back to the first location.

In all agents found 51 undocumented persons inside the two different stash houses.

“(Navarrete) told agents that she knew the persons located at location No. 2 were (undocumented immigrants) and admitted to harboring them,” the complaint states. “(Navarrete) stated that she fed and gave water to the (immigrants) and was to be paid $200 per (person) for her work.”

In each case Navarrete faces up to more than two years in prison.