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Nov. 9, 2009

ANOTHER DEFENDANT INVOLVED IN MAY 2003 SMUGGLING TRAGEDY IN VICTORIA, TEXAS, SENTENCED TO PRISON

(HOUSTON) – Abelardo Flores Jr., 40, a resident of Harlingen, Texas, was sentenced to more than 14 years in federal prison today for his involvement in a smuggling conspiracy which resulted in the death of a total of 19 smuggled aliens aboard an ill-fated tractor trailer abandoned near Victoria, Texas, in May 2003, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced today. Flores previously pleaded guilty to a smuggling conspiracy charge and ultimately testified at the trials of seven co-defendants.

At a sentencing hearing this morning, United States District Court Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore sentenced Flores to 175 months in federal prison, without parole, to be followed by a five-year-term of supervised release for his smuggling conspiracy conviction. Judge Gilmore also imposed a $3,000 fine and assessed a $100 special assessment. 

Flores was a member of an alien smuggling organization that included among its goals the smuggling of aliens into the United States from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and other countries. On May 13, 2003, Flores made telephone contact with Tyrone Mapletoft Williams, who was traveling from San Antonio, Texas, to Harlingen in a tractor-trailer rig accompanied by co-defendant Fatima Holloway. Upon arriving at a truck stop in Harlingen on May 13, 2003, Williams and Holloway met co-defendant Fredy Giovanni Garcia-Tobar. Garcia-Tobar rented a room at a Horizon Inn in Harlingen for Williams and Holloway and transported them to the hotel. Williams left his rig parked at the truck stop.

Later that same day, Flores met with Williams and Holloway at the hotel on two separate occasions. During the second meeting, Flores gave Williams a brown paper sack containing $7,500 as payment to transport a group of undocumented aliens from Harlingen to Robstown, a city near Corpus Christi, Texas.

At approximately 9:00 a.m. on May 13, 2003, Flores guided Williams and Holloway, who were traveling in Williams’ rig, to a darkened field at or near Harlingen. After the rig’s lights had been extinguished, the rig was backed into the field. At this site, at least 74 undocumented migrants were loaded into the refrigerator trailer of Williams’ rig. After the undocumented migrants were loaded, Williams proceeded to Highway 77and then continued northbound on Highway 77 bound for Robstown. During the trip, plans changed and Williams agreed to transport the undocumented aliens to Houston for an additional sum. 

On the morning of May 14, 2003, officers of the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office discovered Williams’ refrigerator trailer near Victoria. The bodies of 17 undocumented aliens plus two others in critical condition who later died at area hospitals as well as survivors of the ill-fated smuggling effort were found by deputies in and around the trailer. 

A jury subsequently convicted Williams of having recklessly placed the lives of the undocumented migrants in jeopardy and at risk of serious bodily injury and that Williams’ deliberate, reckless conduct caused the death of 19 of the trailer’s occupants. The jury subsequently sentenced Williams to 19 life terms of imprisonment.

A total of 12 persons including Flores have been convicted for their involvement in this tragic smuggling operation and are presently serving lengthy prison terms. This case was the result of an extensive international investigation conducted by the Houston, San Antonio, Harlingen, Brownsville and McAllen, Texas, offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; the Department of Housing and Urban Development; the Department of Public Safety, including the Texas Rangers; the Victoria County Sheriff’s Department; and the Police Departments in McAllen, Harlingen and Victoria.  This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel C. Rodriguez, Jeffery Vaden and Tony R. Roberts.

 

 

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