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Oct. 27, 2010


(McALLEN, Texas) - Jorge Hernandez-Hernandez, 38, a Mexican national illegally in the United States, has been sentenced to prison for conspiring to transport illegal aliens that resulted in the death of nine, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today.

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced Hernandez to 180 months in prison at a hearing held this afternoon. In September 2009, after one day of trial testimony, Hernandez-Hernandez, 38, changed his mind about a trial and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport illegal aliens that resulted in the drowning death of nine undocumented aliens. The change in plea brought the one-day jury trial to an abrupt end. Hernandez-Hernandez is subject to deportation upon completing his prison sentence.

Border Patrol agents patrolling an area south of Pharr, Texas, on horseback in August 2004 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 extracted seven individuals who had drowned. The bodies of two others were discovered inside the vehicle when it was extracted from the canal. The nine people who drowned were El Salvadoran and Honduran nationals.

The investigation that followed conducted by agents of  the Immigration and Customs Enforcement - Homeland Security Investigations and the Texas Department of Public Safety ultimately lead to the identification of several individuals involved in this smuggling venture to include Hernandez-Hernandez and Jose Antonio Arispe-Elizondo, 28, of Pharr, Texas. The agents discovered evidence proving the driver of the car that overturned into the canal was a juvenile hired by Arispe-Elizondo. The juvenile has been instructed by Arispe-Elizondo to pick up the aliens while Arispe-Elizondo and other conspirators conducted surveillance for Border Patrol agents. The juvenile drove with his headlights off to avoid being detected as instructed and, after making a sharp turn, ended up in the canal where the deceased aliens were found.

Agents identified Arispe-Elizondo as a leader of a group of five men who worked for Hernandez-Hernandez and involved in picking up loads of illegal aliens from near the river and transporting them to stash houses located north of Edinburg, Texas, operated by Hernandez. Arispe-Elizondo and others were eventually arrested and have since been convicted for their roles in this deadly smuggling effort. The investigation continued - ultimately leading to the October 2008 arrest of Hernandez-Hernandez.  
Hernandez-Hernandez, who has been in federal custody without bond since his arrest, will remain in federal custody to serve his sentence. Arispe-Elizondo is presently serving a 100-month sentence in federal prison. There is no parole in the federal system.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Anibal J. Alaniz.


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