Sentencing delayed in pilot smuggling case

McALLEN — The sentencing hearing for a U.S. citizen accused of using his private plane to try to transport undocumented immigrants will be delayed, according to court records.

The court granted a continuance April 23 for the sentencing hearing for Louis Alphonse Luyten, which was initially scheduled for April 25.

Luyten, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Belgium, was accused of attempting to fly out of a Weslaco airport with multiple undocumented migrants in his aircraft.

Agents with U.S. Homeland Security Investigations detained Luyten moments before he was set to depart in a private plane from the Mid-Valley Airport in Weslaco, the complaint against the man stated.

“… Agents observed a private aircraft taxiing for departure at the Mid-Valley Airport, Weslaco, Texas. The aircraft was observed being piloted by an individual matching the description of (Luyten), who was previously identified as having a revoked pilot’s license,” the complaint stated. “HSI McAllen questioned the four passengers traveling on the aircraft and determined they were all undocumented aliens with no legal right to be or remain in the United States.”

When agents searched Luyten’s plane, they found four Central American men — two from Guatemala, one from El Salvador, and one from Honduras — who did not have proof of legal status to be in the country, as well as an envelope containing $3,000 in cash.

The 80-year-old served as a former NATO pilot, and is described as a master instructor who speaks several languages fluently, including Dutch, French, German and Spanish. He also operated the Antwerp Aviation flight school in South Glastonbury, Connecticut, according to previously published news reports.

In February, the New Jersey man who made his living in part as a pilot, stood before U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to transport aliens.

In exchange for pleading true to the charge, government prosecutors agreed to dismiss the remaining four additional counts of bringing and harboring aliens at the time of his sentencing — now set for June 20, court notes show.

Luyten served in Belgium’s air defense for roughly 20 years, according to prior reports, and was still serving a federal supervised release term related to a 2009 federal drug conviction when he was arrested, court records show.

That conviction, which resulted in a 96-month prison sentence with an additional four years of supervised release, was in connection to his role in transporting several kilos of cocaine between May 2008 and March 2009.

Luyten, who will remain in federal custody prior to his sentencing hearing, faces up to 10 years in prison for attempting to smuggle the four undocumented people, court records show.