Skip to main content
Press Release

Man Sentenced in Deaths of Three Smuggled Chinese Migrants

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

Assistant U. S. Attorney Michael G. Wheat (619) 546-8437    


SAN DIEGO – Neil Edwin Valera, a U.S. citizen who resided in Tijuana, was sentenced in federal court today to five years in prison in connection with the deaths of three Chinese migrants, including a mother and her 15-year-old son, who were found in the trunk of Valera’s BMW two days after he crossed into the United States through the San Ysidro Port of Entry in the same car.

Valera, a truck driver from El Paso, Texas, pleaded guilty in February 2020 to Encouraging Aliens to Enter Resulting in Death and Bringing in Aliens without Presentation for Financial Gain.

At the sentencing hearing today, U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia said: “There’s an inherent danger with putting people in the trunks and compartments of cars. It’s not just a fairy tale that people will get hurt or die - it really does happen.”

On August 11, 2019, at 4:54 p.m., San Diego police received an emergency 911 call from a person reporting a foul odor and blood dripping from a suspicious vehicle with Texas license plates parked near the 2100 block of Jaime Avenue in San Diego.

San Diego police officers discovered a 1999 silver BMW with a Texas license plate. The officers lifted the trunk and found what initially appeared to be two deceased Asian females. Homicide detectives found an additional victim, an Asian male, pressed up against the rear wall of the trunk. A witness said the car was first noticed two days earlier and no one was seen coming or going.

Video recordings show the same car crossing into the United States from Mexico on August 9, 2019, at the San Ysidro port of entry at 3:14 p.m. According to the complaint, the driver was Valera, the registered owner of the vehicle. Valera used his Sentri card to enter into the U.S. After that day, Valera only crossed into the United States on foot, through pedestrian lanes at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

“This smuggler showed a reckless disregard for the lives of his customers,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “This office will aggressively seek justice for victims who no longer have a voice.” Grossman thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat and officials from the San Diego Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Field Operations for their excellent work on this case.

DEFENDANT                                               Case Number 3:19-cr-03865-AJB

Neil Edwin Valera                                          Age: 52           Tijuana


Encouraging Aliens to Enter Resulting in Death – Title 8, U.S.C., Section 1324(a)(1)(A)(vi) and (B)(iv)

Maximum penalty: Life in prison or death and $250,000 fine

Bringing in Aliens without Presentation for Financial Gain – Title 8, U.S.C., Section 1324(a)(2)(B)(ii)

Maximum penalty: Mandatory minimum three years, up to 15 years in prison


San Diego Police Department

Homeland Security Investigations

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Field Operations



Updated March 15, 2021

Human Smuggling
Release Number: CAS21-0315-Valera