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March 3, 2011


(McALLEN, Texas) – A total of six defendants charged in two separate and unrelated cases have been sentenced to prison this week for transporting undocumented aliens in the air dams of tractor trailers, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today.

An air dam is a spoiler dome located on the top of the cab of a tractor trailer which is designed to lessen drag caused from air resistance from the trailer it is towing, which may be taller than the cab and provide a very non-aerodynamic effect. The air dam was not designed for use as a passenger compartment and poses a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury to persons transported in that manner. In determining the length of the prison term handed down, the judges took into consideration the total number of aliens transported, the substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury to the aliens based upon their being transported within the air dams and that at least one alien sustained a burn to his arm and another fractured his ankle while trying to get into the air dam. 

Five of the six sentenced to prison this week for using this extremely dangers means of transporting human beings were charged together in one indictment. Today, the five - all convicted in December 2010 after pleading guilty to transporting undocumented aliens within the United States inside the air dams of tractor trailers in or about November 2010 - were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Randy Crane. Domingo Sandoval-Mendoza, 31, of Mexico, who pleaded guilty in December 2010 to the smuggling charge as well as to being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm was sentenced to a total of 41 months in federal prison. The other four defendants, José Asuncion Olivares, 18, of Mission, Texas, Antonio Ibarra-Olvera, 57, of Mexico, Roberto Rodriguez-Casas, 20, of Mission, and Juan Ramon Sandoval-Mendoza, 28, of Mexico, also pleaded guilty in December. Olivares and Sandoval Mendoza were each sentenced to 27-month terms, while Ibarra-Olvera and Rodriguez-Casas and were each sentenced to 41 months in prison. Each of the five has also been ordered to serve a two-year-term of supervised release.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) and U.S. Border Patrol (BP) investigation leading to the charges against these five men began with surveillance of a tractor trailer parking lot in Edinburg, Texas, and the discovery of three aliens hidden within the air dam area of a tractor trailer. Investigating agents discovered that these defendants had previously participated in the transportation of additional aliens within the air dams of other tractor trailers, without the apparent knowledge of the tractor trailer operators.

The sixth defendant sentenced this week charged in a separate and unrelated but similar case, Pedro Junior Perez, 18, of Donna, Texas, was sentenced yesterday by U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa to 24 months in federal prison to be followed by a two-year-term of supervised release. Perez also pleaded guilty in December 2010. In this case, ICE-HSI and BP agents had been conducting surveillance of a vehicle driven by Perez, which had been identified as being used to transport aliens. Upon conducting an immigration inspection of the occupants of the vehicle, agents discovered that two of the occupants were in the United States illegally. Through further investigation, it was learned that Perez had previously participated in the transportation of additional aliens within the air dams of other tractor trailers, without the knowledge of the tractor trailer operators. 

All defendants are presently in custody and will remain in custody pending transfer to a Bureau of Prisons facility where they will serve their sentence. Those defendants who are foreign nationals face possible deportation upon completion of their prison term.

Assistant United States Attorney Linda Requénez prosecuted both cases.


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