Pharr man guilty of smuggling 27 people in trailer

After two days of trial, a Pharr man was found guilty of transporting 27 undocumented people inside a trailer, according to court records.

On Tuesday, a federal jury in Corpus Christi found Heriberto Lerma guilty of attempting to smuggle 27 people concealed inside a tractor trailer Lerma was driving, court notes show.

Lerma was arrested in April of this year at the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in Sarita after agents could not match the seal on the trailer’s doors and the bill of lading on the trailer.

According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Southern District of Texas, Lerma, who was driving the trailer for a local Pharr trucking company, told agents he was traveling alone and that he was hauling building materials. However, authorities noticed the bill of lading and the seal placed on the door of the trailer did not match — a common sign of tampering with the load.

Additionally, a Border Patrol agent advised that his K-9 had alerted to something inside the trailer, the complaint against Lerma read.

Agents eventually located a total of 27 people in the trailer, all of whom were illegally in the United States.

During the brief trial, Lerma’s defense counsel attempted to convince the jury that the defendant did not know that the undocumented persons were in his tractor trailer.

Found guilty on two counts of bringing in and harboring “aliens,” Lerma will be back before a federal judge on Nov. 3, for sentencing, where Lerma faces up to five years in prison and a possible $250,000 fine.

Lerma is being held on bond pending the sentencing hearing.