News and Press Releases

30 Years for Mexican National Involved in Alien Smuggling Conspiracy Resulting in the Death of Nine

Nov. 30, 2011

McALLEN, Texas – Joel Cardenas-Meneses, 43, a Mexican citizen, has been sentenced to 360 months in federal prison for his role in an alien smuggling conspiracy that resulted in the death of nine people, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today. U.S. District Court Judge Randy Crane handed down the sentence a short while ago in federal court in McAllen.

On Aug. 9, 2004, Immigration and Customs Enforcement - Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) and Border Patrol (BP) agents responded to a vehicle accident that occurred near Hidalgo, Texas. At the scene, agents found a vehicle that had fallen into an irrigation canal with seven men and two women whom had drowned inside. The subsequent investigation revealed that the nine people who had died were illegal aliens from El Salvador and Honduras.

During the course of the investigation, agents learned that the juvenile driver of the vehicle had been involved with a group of individuals who included Jose Antonio Arispe-Elizondo and Norberto Garza, both 28 and United States citizens, residing in McAllen. The investigation further revealed that Cardenas-Meneses was in charge of recruiting individuals from Central America and arranging their transportation to the Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico area.

Once in the Reynosa area, Cardenas-Meneses coordinated the smuggling of the illegal aliens across the Rio Grande River. At that point, Joel Cardenas-Meneses’ right hand man, Jorge Hernandez-Hernandez, 40, hired a group of young men to pick up the illegal aliens and transport them to various stash houses that Hernandez-Hernandez had in northern Edinburg, Texas. From there, Hernandez-Hernandez hired numerous individuals to transport the illegal aliens to Houston.

On the date of the accident, the driver, as instructed, had been driving with his lights off to avoid detection. After making a sharp turn, the vehicle ended up in the canal where the deceased aliens were found.

In August 2006, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against Cardenas-Meneses charging him with conspiracy to transport and harbor illegal aliens, as well as 11 counts of transporting illegal aliens. However, by that time, he was living in Mexico. In February 2011, Cardenas-Meneses was arrested in Houston.

The federal jury trial before Judge Crane began on Monday, Sept. 19, 2011. After hearing five days of testimony, the jury found Cardenas-Meneses guilty on all counts.

Arispe-Elizondo has already been sentenced, as was Garza, to 100 and 58 months, respectively. Last year, Hernandez-Hernandez, after one day of trial testimony, opted to plead guilty, and was sentenced to 180 months in federal prison.

The investigation was conducted by ICE-HSI, BP and the Texas Department of Public Safety and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Anibal J. Alaniz and Casey MacDonald.

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