News and Press Releases

Mexican National Found Guilty of Alien Smuggling That Lead to the Death of Nine Illegal Aliens

Sept. 26, 2011

McALLEN, Texas - Joel Cardenas-Meneses, 43, a citizen of Mexico, has been found guilty by a federal jury of alien smuggling that resulted in the death of nine illegal aliens, United States Attorney Josè Angel Moreno announced today. The jury returned its verdict late Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, after five days of testimony and approximately an hour and a half of deliberation.

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 an irrigation canal near Hidalgo, Texas. At the scene, agents found a vehicle that had fallen into an irrigation canal. Inside the vehicle, agents found seven men and two women inside who had drowned. The subsequent investigation revealed that the nine people were illegal aliens from El Salvador and Honduras.

The driver of the vehicle, an unindicted 17-year-old male, was involved with a group of individuals which included Jose Antonio Arispe, 28, and Norberto Garza, 28, both United States citizens, as well as Cardenas-Meneses, who was in charge of recruiting aliens from Central America to arrange to illegally smuggle them into the United States. Meneses was also in charge of coordinating the illegal aliens transportation to the Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico area. Once in the Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico area, Cardenas-Meneses coordinated the smuggling of the illegal aliens across the Rio Grande River. Cardenas-Meneses’ right hand man, Jorge Hernandez-Hernandez, 40, of Mexico, hired a group of young men, to include Arispe, Garza and the juvenile driver to pick up the illegal aliens and transport them to various stash houses that he had in northern Edinburg, Texas. Once in those stash houses, Hernandez hired numerous individuals (unindicted co-conspirators) to transport the illegal aliens to Houston.

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. At that time, he was living in Mexico, but in February 2011, Cardenas-Meneses was arrested in Houston.

With the exception of two individuals who remain fugitives, others charged in the indictment have all been convicted and sentenced. Hernandez-Hernandez, Arispe and Garza received sentences of 180, 100 and 58 months of imprisonment, respectfully. Hector Garza, who operated a staging area where aliens were divided into smaller groups and placed in multiple vehicles to avoid detection by law enforcement, was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment in September 2007.

Joel Cardenas-Meneses  faces a possible punishment of up to life in prison, a fine not to exceed $250,000, and a $100 special assessment as to each count at his sentencing, which is set for Nov. 28, 2011, before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane.

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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