Alien Smuggling Ring Dismantled
McALLEN, Texas – With the sentencing of the leaders today, seven members of a smuggling group that harbored and/or transported more than 200 undocumented aliens from the Rio Grande Valley to Houston have all been ordered to federal prison, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.
Jose Luis Soto-Lopez, 52, and his daughter, Erica Janine Soto, 27, both who resided in Brownsville, were sentenced to 54 and 21 months in federal prison for their roles in an the alien smuggling that Soto-Lopez led. Soto will also serve two years of supervised release, while Soto-Lopez, not a U.S. citizen, is expected to face deportation proceedings following his prison term.
The conspiracy ran from at least Feb. 10, 2014, through Sept. 1, 2016.
Soto-Lopez and Soto recruited individuals to either harbor undocumented aliens in stash houses throughout Hidalgo County or serve as guides for undocumented aliens transported from stash houses to a residence in Houston.
Soto-Lopez and Soto coordinated or were involved in the unsuccessful transport of 48 undocumented aliens, including a 13-year-old child and other minor children, on at least seven different occasions between Feb. 10, 2014, and May 10, 2016 in Brooks, Jim Hogg, Webb and Starr Counties. On four of the seven occasions, load vehicles involved in the smuggling of the undocumented aliens either crashed or resulted in a vehicle bail-out to avoid law enforcement.
The investigation further revealed alien stash houses that Soto-Lopez and Soto ran in Hidalgo County were discovered on at least three occasions from Aug. 9, 2016, through Sept. 1, 2016, resulting in the apprehension of 45 undocumented aliens.
At the time of Soto-Lopez and Soto’s arrest, authorities conducted a search of their residence in Brownsville where they found multiple vehicles and vehicle titles matching vehicles the organization used. The vehicle titles were registered to names and/or addresses not belonging to Soto-Lopez or Soto.
The investigation also revealed Soto had previously been encountered on Jan. 10, 2016, with a ledger consistent with documenting the transport of approximately 113 additional aliens from Oct. 27, 2015, through Jan. 7, 2016. The ledger in Soto’s possession also contained information on rental properties, travel directions and international Western Union or Moneygram transactions consistent with alien smuggling. Based on information contained within the ledger, the organization appeared to be charging $800-$2600 to transport and/or harbor each undocumented alien.
Five other individuals involved in the smuggling organization were all from Mexico and have also been sentenced to varying terms up to 23 months imprisonment. They are also expected to face deportation proceedings.
Border Patrol and Immigration and Custom's Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation with the assistance of the Duval County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto Lopez Jr. prosecuted the case.