McALLEN — A local woman accused of being involved in a human smuggling ring was sentenced to prison Monday, court records show.
During a sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane, Flor Ofeliz Martinez Aranda, 33, learned of her punishment for her role in an attempt to move several people from the Rio Grande Valley to Dallas, court notes show.
Crane handed down an 18-month prison sentence for Martinez related to a September arrest after agents with U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, who were working a smuggling case, identified the woman as part of a scheme to transport 15 undocumented persons from Mission to Dallas, according to the criminal complaint filed against her.
Martinez, who admitted she was also in the country without legal permission, pleaded guilty in October to one of the three federal human smuggling charges filed against her on Sept. 22, 2018, according to court documents.
Martinez is originally from Mexico, records also show.
In exchange for pleading true to the charge, government prosecutors agreed to dismiss the remaining two counts of bringing in and harboring during her sentencing hearing, according to court records.
HSI agents became aware of a plan to smuggle 15 undocumented persons three days before Martinez was identified as a co-conspirator in the arrangement when an unidentified woman made contact with an undercover agent posing as a smuggling associate.
“On Sept. 18, 2018, an unidentified female contacted an HSI source to request a driver to transport undocumented aliens via a tractor-trailer to Dallas, Texas, from an unknown location in the Rio Grande Valley,” the document reads.
Posing as a tractor-trailer driver, the undercover agent negotiated smuggling arrangements with the unidentified female the following day.
On Sept. 20, the woman met with the undercover agent to finalize an agreement to smuggle 15 undocumented persons from the Valley to Dallas for $35,000, or $2,000 per person with $5,000 cash upfront, the complaint states.
The next day the woman instructed the tractor-trailer driver to pick up the group of people from another woman, later identified as Martinez, who passed along the $5,000 cash to the undercover agent.
“Martinez-Aranda provided the UCA with an envelope containing $5,000 USD and transferred a total fifteen (15) UDAs from her vehicle and from her residence in Mission, Texas, to UCA’s vehicle,” the document shows.
Subsequently, U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested Martinez and the 15 undocumented persons.
During her interview with federal authorities, Martinez stated “that she knew” the 15 people she had transferred over to the driver were undocumented and illegally in the United States.
“Martinez-Aranda also confessed to giving the (undercover agent) an envelope containing money,” the court record shows.
In addition to admitting her role in the scheme, Martinez stated she took care of the group and kept them concealed at a property she lived at, the complaint states.
She said she was going to be paid $750 to “harbor and assist” the 15 undocumented persons.
At least two of the 15 members of that group identified Martinez as the person who was the “caretaker,” at the residence in Mission.
Martinez, who does not have legal status to be in the U.S. and did not receive a supervised release term as part of her punishment, will likely be deported once she’s completed her prison sentence.