July 28, 2010
FOUR MEMBERS OF A NUEVO LAREDO-BASED ALIEN SMUGGLING ORGANIZATION SENTENCED TO PRISON FOR SMUGGLING ALIENS USING FRAUDULENT DOCUMENTS
(LAREDO, Texas) – Four members of a Nuevo Laredo-based alien smuggling group have been sentenced to prison for their participation in a conspiracy to smuggle aliens through the international port of entry in Laredo, Texas, using fraudulent immigration travel documents, U.S. Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today.
Abel Lopez-Coronado, 39, a legal permanent resident alien from Mexico, and three Mexican nationals David Alberto Balderas,30, Juan Carlos Martinez, 35, and Mario Alberto Perez-Contreras, 36, were sentenced to prison today by U.S. District Judge Sim Lake. Lopez-Coronado was sentenced to five years in a federal prison while Balderas, Martinez and Perez-Contreras were sentence to three years, 15 months, and 18 months imprisonment. Each was a member of an alien smuggling organization based out of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, the border sister city of Laredo, Texas, where all defendants resided.
The charges against these for men resulted from a long-term investigation into the trafficking of fraudulent immigration travel documents which had previously resulted in the arrest of a corrupt Customs and Border Protection (CPP) Officer selling I-94 travel permits. Special agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) and CBP officers identified Abel Lopez-Coronado as one of the supervisors for a smuggling organization which shepherded aliens through ports of entry in Laredo.
In October 2008, CBP and ICE apprehended several aliens who attempted to make entry into the U.S. as tourists walking through the international bridge in Laredo, Texas, using fraudulent documents that were connected to the investigation of the corrupt former CBP officer. The documents were traced to the Nuevo Laredo organization that was supplying them to aliens so they could fraudulently gain admission into the U.S. The organization matched aliens with a set of immigration documents to resemble the person to whom the documents were issued. CBP and ICE began monitoring the activities of Lopez-Coronado and subsequently identified how he led and supervised a number of individuals who guided aliens across the pedestrian walkway of Gateway to the Americas International Bridge in Laredo. After the guides successfully led the aliens across immigration inspection lanes, the aliens were escorted to waiting vehicles that would ferry them to a number of stash houses in Laredo. At the stash houses, aliens were further coached to answer immigration questions typically posed at interior immigration Border Patrol checkpoints.
In April 2009 after several months of investigation, Lopez-Coronado and the other defendants were arrested, and a search warrant was executed at one of the stash houses used by the organization. Agents discovered 16 undocumented aliens inside the dilapidated structure, furnished mostly with mattresses and strewn with notebooks filled with typical questions and answers of immigration inspections at Border Patrol checkpoints. Agents also located pollero lists of telephone numbers of relatives responsible for payment of smuggling fees, and dozens of Mexican identification documents, fraudulent U.S. travel permits, and DSP-150 border crosser laser visas.
The organization charged a smuggling fee of approximately $2,500, with part payment in Mexico and the remaining balance owed when the alien reached his or her final destination in the United States.
In handing down the five year sentence on Lopez-Coronado, Judge Lake considered his role as a leader of a criminal activity that involved more than five participants and was responsible for smuggling 204 undocumented aliens into the U.S. from 2006 to 2008. Judge Lake remarked that the number of aliens attributable to the defendant was a “conservative” number in light of evidence that Lopez-Coronado participated in the extensive activities of the organization for at least two years. Balderas, a guide supervised by Lopez-Coronado, was held responsible for smuggling approximately 132 aliens during the two-year period he worked for the organization. Martinez and Perez-Contreras were drivers for the organization who transported aliens from the international bridge to the stash house.
All four defendants face deportation following the completion of their respective prison terms and have been ordered by the court not to return to the country illegally if deported.
Assistant United States Attorney Diana Song prosecuted the case.
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