Department of Justice Logo and United States Attorney's Office Header
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ANGELA DODGE

March 27, 2012

PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICER
(713) 567-9388

Two Leaders in Alien Smuggling Organization and Seven Others Sent to Federal Prison

McALLEN, Texas – Two leaders of a Houston-based alien smuggling organization and seven others have been sentenced to federal prison for their roles in a smuggling operation that resulted in the death of an illegal alien, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today.

Rafael Valles aka El Viejo or Rafa, a United States citizen living in the McAllen area, and Refugio Reyna-Huerta aka Cuco, a Mexican citizen who resided in Houston, both of whom were leaders of an alien smuggling organization, were sentenced today by Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa to 125 and 96 months in federal prison, respectively.

Valles, 34, and Reyna-Huerta, 32, pleaded guilty in 2011 to conspiracy to transport illegal aliens in the United States. At that time, both admitted to leading an organization responsible for the death of an illegal alien on Feb. 16, 2010. Specifically, on that date, Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) special agents responded to a motor vehicle accident that occurred near Falfurrias, Texas. At the accident scene, agents identified one deceased individual, a Mexican citizen, and a badly damaged Toyota Tundra.  Further investigation revealed the Tundra was carrying approximately 17 illegal aliens from the McAllen area to Houston, where the illegal aliens would be further transported to other locations throughout the United States. However, as the aliens were transported north, the driver of the vehicle, believing that he was being followed by law enforcement, made a sudden turn causing the Tundra to flip over. Further investigation revealed that Valles and Reyna-Huerta organized the transportation by, among other things, renting the load vehicle, paying drivers and scouts and renting a stash house in McAllen which housed the 17 illegal aliens mentioned above and hundreds of others who were transported by the organization over time.

Seven other individuals were sentenced today for their respective roles in the organization. Mario Salinas, 24, of Mexico, who was the driver of the Tundra, was sentenced to 75 months in prison. Gabriel Dominguez-Benitez, 27, of Houston, conducted counter-surveillance and was sentenced to 41 months in prison, while Jovany Calderon-Vargas, 24, of Mexico, who worked at the stash house, was sentenced to 37 months in prison. Specifically, Calderon-Vargas kept track of payments made by family members of the illegal aliens so that the organization could determine who would be transported north. Nestor Flores-Perez, 35, of Mexico, and Alejandro Amaya-Arevalo, 28, of Mexico, were sentenced to 30 and 57 months in prison, respectively, for transporting aliens to the stash house. Angelica Verastegui-Espinoza, 25, of Mexico, who rented the stash house at the direction of Reyna-Huerta, was sentenced to 23 months in prison, and Juliana Vanessa Cruz, 26, of McAllen, was sentenced to 46 months in prison for transporting illegal aliens to the stash house from the Rio Grande river. All nine defendants were additionally ordered to serve various terms of supervised release following their prison terms.

The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by ICE-HSI. Assistant United States Attorney Gregory S. Saikin prosecuted the case.