McALLEN — A group of human smugglers who were holding a large group of undocumented persons were sentenced Tuesday.
A Honduran national and three Mexican nationals who played roles in holding nearly 60 undocumented persons in a residence in Edinburg were each sentenced to prison in connection with federal harboring charges, records show.
U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced Sergio Almazan-Soto of Honduras to a 27-month sentence, Paola Zaleta-Hernandez to 41 months, Gerson Moises Borjas-Garcia to 36 months and Mario Alberto Torres-Bolanos to 120 months, notes show.
The sentencing hearing Tuesday comes months after Almazan-Soto, Zaleta-Hernandez, Borjas-Garcia and Torres-Bolanos each pleaded guilty before Crane in connection with their early January arrests, court records show.
The investigation into the group began on Dec. 12 when U.S. Border Patrol agents received reports of a stash house operation in Edinburg.
Less than a month later, U.S. Border Patrol agents began conducting surveillance on the residence.
“On Jan. 9, 2019, BPAs conducted surveillance on the targeted house and observed several subjects in the rear 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 departed from. Each person later admitted to being in the country illegally and of their knowledge of the undocumented persons within the residence.
“(Borjas-Garcia) told agents he resided in the stash house and granted written consent to search his property,” the complaint read. “(Borjas-Garcia) stated there were sixty (60) or more IAs (illegal aliens) currently being harbored at the house. (Borjas-Garcia) also stated he left the house in charge to a brush guide he called ‘Venado.’ (Borjas-Garcia) stated ‘El Venado’ had the remote to access the property gate.”
With permission to access the property, Border Patrol agents entered the house and encountered 58 “subjects” inside the stash house.
During their search they encountered “El Venado,” or “The Deer,” later identified as Almazan-Soto, who admitted to knowing where the gate remote was located.
After processing all the subjects, Border Patrol agents learned there was another person in charge “as the main coordinator,” later determined to be 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 observed 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 stated he had been smuggling “aliens” for about two months.
“(Torres-Bolanos) claims that he smuggled undocumented aliens to the house where Border Patrol agents apprehended 50 to 60 undocumented aliens. (Torres-Bolanos) admitted he transported the undocumented aliens and took food to the stash house with the help of a woman,” the complaint stated. “(Torres-Bolanos) 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 stated 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 stash house. Agents determined “Flaco” was Borjas-Garcia, who acted as the stash house caretaker.
As part of their respective plea agreements with the government, the court dismissed counts two and three for all defendants, court records show.