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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of California

Monday, July 18, 2016

Defendants Sentenced to More Than a Decade in Prison for Violent Hostage Taking

Assistant U. S. Attorneys Seth Askins (619) 546-6692 and Steve Miller (619) 546-7938    


SAN DIEGO – Three defendants have been sentenced for their roles in an alien harboring and hostage taking conspiracy involving two Mexican nationals, one of whom was severely beaten when the conspirators’ ransom demands were not met.

In late July 2015, the two victims were smuggled into the United States from Mexico and stashed at a hotel in El Centro, presumably to await further transportation to their ultimate destination within the United States.

While waiting at the hotel, the victims were discovered by defendant Robert Covarrubias, who transported them by foot to the home of co-defendant Xochitil Victoria Otero, where they were initially locked in a shed before being taken into the house. Once inside Otero’s residence, Covarrubias was joined by co-defendant David “Smokz” Chavez, and the two of them contacted the victims’ family and demanded money for their release.

At one point, Chavez and Covarrubias threatened the male victim with a firearm, forcing him to beg his mother to send money to the defendants for fear of being killed.  When it became apparent that their plan was destined to fail, Otero drove Chavez, Covarrubias and the two victims to a remote location in Imperial Valley where Chavez and Covarrubias severely beat the male victim with a crowbar before releasing them. The male victim sustained serious injuries to his head, face and hands as a result of the beating.  Fortunately, the victims were able to make contact with a farmworker in an adjacent field, who helped them contact law enforcement.

Chavez and Covarrubias pleaded guilty to hostage taking, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1203(a), and Otero pleaded guilty to Alien Harboring, in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iii) and (v)(II).  On May 31, 2016, Chavez was sentenced to 168 months (14 years) in prison, while Otero was sentenced to 40 months for her lesser role in the offense.  Today, Covarrubias was sentenced to 144 months (12 years) in prison for his role in the offense.  The sentences were imposed by U.S. District Judge John A. Houston.  A hearing to determine restitution for the victims is set for August 29, 2016.

The successful federal prosecution of this violent crime was a collaborative effort by Homeland Security Investigations Imperial Valley Border Enforcement Task Force and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Seth Askins and Steve Miller.

DEFENDANTS                                            Case Number 15cr2097-JAH                                              

David Chavez, aka “Smokz”                          Age:  29                                  Calexico, CA

Robert Covarrubias                                         Age:  20                                  El Centro, CA

Xochitil Victoria Otero                                   Age:  24                                  El Centro, CA


Conspiracy to Take a Hostage and Hostage Taking – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1203(a)

Maximum penalty:  Life imprisonment and $250,000 fine

Alien Harboring – Title 8, U.S.C., Section 1324(a)(1)(A)(iii) and (v)(II)

Maximum penalty:  10 years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine


Homeland Security Investigations Imperial Valley Border Enforcement Task Force

Human Smuggling
Press Release Number: 
Updated July 18, 2016