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Justice News

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Federal Jury Convicts Laredoan In Alien Harboring Conspiracy

LAREDO, Texas – A Jury sitting in Laredo has convicted Gustavo Villegas, 28, of Laredo, tonight of all four counts related to harboring 21 illegal aliens for profit, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson. The jury returned its verdict less than an hour ago following a two-day trial and 90 minutes of deliberation.

The jury heard that Villegas took part in a conspiracy to smuggle and harbor illegal aliens in Laredo in July 2014. Villegas transported illegal aliens to a local Burger King restaurant as well as both the American Best Value Inn and Gateway Inn hotels in Laredo. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) ultimately discovered a total of 21 illegal aliens at the hotels. Through ongoing investigation, agents tracked vehicles to Villegas and others and he was arrested on Oct. 23, 2014. 

When HSI agents learned of a smuggling event which was to occur at an HEB parking lot in Laredo, they began conducting surveillance and witnessed a number of persons exit a Ford Focus car and get into a Dodge Durango truck Villegas was driving. Agents followed the vehicle to a Burger King where four of the people got out of the Dodge truck and boarded another vehicle bound for America’s Best Value hotel in Laredo. Several people got out and entered a room at the hotel. Agents witnessed similar activity leading them to the Gateway Inn hotel where more individuals were seen entering that hotel on two separate occasions. Eventually, agents knocked on the doors of both hotels and asked for consent from the occupants.

The jury heard and was provided evidence that Villegas had rented the room at America’s Best Value hotel which was found to hold seven El Salvadoran nationals and one Honduran national. Co-defendant Rodolfo Castaneda rented the Gateway Inn hotel room which held 13 El Salvadoran nationals.

At trial, the United States presented testimony from numerous HSI agents, the undocumented aliens as well as local hotel owners. The government also provided evidence of vehicle registration information connecting Villegas to multiple vehicles used in this conspiracy. 

Castaneda previously pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

U.S. Senior District Judge Janis Graham Jack presided over trial and sentencing will be set at a later date.

HSI conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jorge Vela and Sanjeev Bhasker prosecuted the case.

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Updated April 30, 2015