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Sept. 29, 2009


(McALLEN, Texas) – After one day of trial testimony, Jorge Hernandez-Hernandez, 38, decided to plead guilty to conspiracy to transport illegal aliens that resulted in the drowning death of nine aliens, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced today.

Hernandez-Hernandez’s decision brought the one-day jury trial to an abrupt end today. United States District Judge Randy Crane accepted the defendant’s guilty plea and has set sentencing for Dec. 15, 2009. 

On Aug. 9, 2004, Border Patrol (BP) agents on horseback patrolling an area south of Pharr, Texas, came upon a vehicle that had overturned into an irrigation canal and called emergency personnel from the Hidalgo, Texas, police department. Upon arriving at the accident site, several Hidalgo police officers jumped into the canal and retrieved the bodies of seven individuals who had drowned. Two other bodies were discovered inside the vehicle when it was removed from the canal. The nine deceased aliens were from El Salvador and Honduras.

The subsequent investigation conducted by agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) lead the agents to identify several individuals who were involved in this smuggling venture to include Hernandez-Hernandez. The agents discovered the driver of the car was a 17-year-old that had been hired by Jose Antonio Arispe-Elizondo, 28. The juvenile told authorities that on that night, he agreed to pick up the aliens while Arispe-Elizondo and other conspirators served as look outs for BP agents. He also told the agents he was instructed by Arispe-Elizondo to turn off his headlights to avoid being detected by BP agents. Because he drove the vehicle near the canal with the headlights off, he made a sharp turn and ended up falling into the canal.

Arispe-Elizondo lead a group of five men whose work for Hernandez-Hernandez involved picking up loads of illegal aliens from near the river and transporting them to stash houses located north of Edinburg, Texas. Hernandez-Hernandez ran and operated the stash houses.

Hernandez-Hernandez, who has been in federal custody without bond since Oct. 20, 2008, is facing a possible sentence of up to life imprisonment and a fine not to exceed $250,000. Arispe-Elizondo had previously pleaded guilty and was later sentenced to serve 100 months in prison. 

The investigation was conducted by ICE and Texas DPS and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Anibal J. Alaniz.




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