McALLEN — Three Mexican nationals and one Honduran national who played roles in holding nearly 60 undocumented persons in a residence in Edinburg pleaded guilty to federal harboring charges last week.
Sergio Almazan-Soto, 29, of Honduras, and Mexican nationals Paola Zaleta-Hernandez, 28, Gerson Moises Borjas-Garcia, 21, and Mario Alberto Torres-Bolanos, 32, each stood before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane on Friday for their respective re-arraignment hearings.
They each pleaded guilty to the federal harboring charges related to their early January arrests, court records show.
The investigation began Dec. 12 when U.S. Border Patrol agents received reports of a reported stash house in Edinburg.
Less than a month later, Border Patrol agents began conducting surveillance on the residence.
On Jan. 9 agents saw several people in the back of the house.
“Shortly after, a black sports utility vehicle (SUV) was seen arriving at the property,” the complaint against the group read. “One male subject exited the house and boarded the SUV; the vehicle then drove away from the house.”
Border Patrol agents subsequently requested assistance from the local sheriff’s department in an effort to pull the vehicle over.
“A deputy responded and observed the driver of the black SUV make a traffic violation and proceeded to conduct a traffic stop on the SUV,” the record stated.
With Border Patrol agents present, the driver, identified later as Zaleta-Hernandez, and passenger Borjas-Garcia were questioned about the residence they had just left. Both later admitted they were in the country illegally, and that they knew undocumented people were inside the residence.
Borjas-Garcia told agents he lived at the stash house and granted written consent to search his property, the complaint indicated. He told law enforcement officials there were 60 or more people being harbored inside and said he left the house in charge to a brush guide he called “El Venado,” which had the remote to access the property gate.
Border Patrol agents entered the house and found 58 people inside the stash house.
During their search, they also found “El Venado,” or “The Deer,” later identified as Almazan-Soto, who admitted to knowing where the gate remote was located.
After processing all of them, Border Patrol agents learned there was another person in charge which acted as “the main coordinator,” later identified as Torres-Bolanos, also known as “Camaron,” or “Shrimp,” the record shows.
The following day, Jan. 10, Border Patrol agents returned to the stash house and saw a vehicle leave.
Once again, they asked local deputies to pull the vehicle over. And during the stop, Torres-Bolanos was identified and arrested. During questioning, Torres-Bolanos said he had been smuggling people for about two months.
“(Torres-Bolanos) admitted he transported the undocumented aliens and took food to the stash house with the help of a woman,” the complaint stated. “(He) admitted the woman also transported the aliens and would take food to the stash house. (He) told agents he had a caretaker at the stash house and was trying to find guides to walk undocumented aliens further north.”
Zaleta-Hernandez said she entered the country more than three years ago and began smuggling people after being offered work by Torres-Bolanos, who she knew as “Camaron,” the complaint read.
“Paola accepted the offer in exchange for a free trip to Tennessee that would normally cost $2,500 USD. (Zaleta-Hernandez) stated she picked up illegal aliens from ‘Camaron’ about 10 times,” the record shows. “(Zaleta-Hernandez) admitted she took a total of 15 illegal aliens to the stash house. (She) said ‘Camaron’ would instruct her to take away the alien’s cell phones.”
She told agents that a man who went by “Flaco,” or “Skinny,” would grab food and take it inside the house. Agents determined “Flaco” was Borjas-Garcia, who acted as the stash house caretaker.
All four are scheduled to be sentenced May 14.