Skip to main content
Press Release

Defendant Sentenced to 45 Months for Smuggling Event that Resulted in Death

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California

Assistant U. S. Attorney Amanda T. Muskat (619) 546-6495   

NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – November 9, 2021

SAN DIEGO – Leobardo Soto-Toledo, a foot guide who led a group of 14 undocumented migrants into the United States through an underground drainage pipe during heavy rains, resulting in a death and a near-drowning, was sentenced in federal court yesterday to 45 months in prison.

As reflected in the court records, on January 29, 2021, the group of migrants entered the United States near Chula Vista, California, by either climbing over the international boundary fence or traversing through a drainage pipe that runs underground approximately one-quarter mile from Mexico into the United States. The storm drain is capped on the United States side by a mechanical grate, located approximately one-and-a-half miles east of the San Ysidro, California Port of Entry.

The defendant acted as a foot guide, leading the undocumented migrants into the United States by crossing the boundary fence close to the grate. Thereafter, the defendant entered the drainage pipe and guided the undocumented migrants behind him through the approximately 5-foot diameter pipe, eventually reaching the mechanical grate at the end, which can only be opened on the United States side. Stormy conditions caused water to rush through the drainpipe at a high speed. A digital intrusion device captured an image of individuals at the mouth of the grate.

According to court records, the defendant’s role was to travel to the grate and attempt to convince U.S. Border Patrol personnel to open the grate by yelling for help amidst the flowing water, allowing the migrants behind him to exit the open grate and further their entry into the United States.

When Border Patrol agents responded to the scene, they opened the grate, and the migrants flowed out on the rushing water. Border Patrol agents located one individual floating in the water who was deceased, and was later identified as the defendant’s brother and fellow foot guide. Border Patrol agents located another individual floating unconscious after traveling through the grate and managed to resuscitate her and transport her to a hospital.

“Human smuggling efforts that result in a death and endanger lives are tragic and deeply disturbing,” explained Acting U.S. Attorney Randy S. Grossman.  “We will continue to use all means at our disposal to hold accountable those placing human beings at substantial risk of injury and death.” Grossman thanked prosecutor Amanda Muskat and the U.S. Border Patrol for their excellent work on this case.

“We are grateful for the resolve and perseverance that our law enforcement community demonstrated during the past several months, including that of the United States Attorney’s office,” said Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke. “Collaboratively, the efforts of our men and women resulted in Leobardo Soto-Toledo’s arrest, conviction, and just sentencing.”

When handing down the sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Cynthia Bashant noted that this event was “a tragedy for all involved.” Judge Bashant held that the migrants were placed at substantial risk of death or great bodily injury and applied a sentencing enhancement due to the fatality caused by the defendant’s conduct.

DEFENDANT                                               Case Number 21cr607-BAS                                       

Leobardo Soto-Toledo                                    Age: 54                       Residence: Mexico


8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(i) and (v)(II) – Bringing in Illegal Aliens and Aiding and Abetting (Counts 1, 12, and 17)

Maximum Penalties:  Ten years in prison; $250,000 fine


United States Border Patrol

Updated November 9, 2021

Human Smuggling
Press Release Number: CAS21-1109-Soto