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Press Release

Members of deadly alien smuggling ring convicted

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

BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Several members of a deadly alien smuggling ring have pleaded guilty to conspiring to smuggle illegal aliens resulting in multiple deaths, announced U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani.

Juan Manuel Tena, 40, Pharr, Julia Isairis Torres, 37, Israel Torres Jr., 34, and Jose Refugio Torres, 27, all of Roma, conspired to transport illegal aliens from the Rio Grande Valley to destinations within the United States. As a result of that conspiracy, a total of eight aliens were killed and two others seriously injured.

All four were all involved in the attempted smuggling of illegal aliens in March 2019 by motor vehicle from the Rio Grande Valley to Houston. During this failed attempt, a vehicle rolled over and caused the deaths of four non-U.S. citizens with serious injuries to one other.

Tena and others also attempted to smuggle illegal aliens in February 2022 by watercraft from South Padre Island to the Corpus Christi area. The watercraft capsized, resulting in the deaths of four other non-U.S. citizens and serious injury to another.

The victims included migrants from Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Ecuador as well as a 17-year-old boy from Ecuador and a pregnant woman from Honduras.

“From the shores of Corpus Christi to the backroads of the Rio Grande Valley, Tena and his associates left a dark path strewn with dead migrants. Eight people, including a pregnant mother, lost their lives due to their actions,” said Hamdani. “Like so many others, the victims in this case wanted to come to America for a better life, but Tena and his associates took advantage of them for profit. Now they are going to federal prison. Let this case be an example to anyone thinking about smuggling people in the United States, especially using dangerous means. You will be prosecuted. You will be held accountable.”

“Not only did this human smuggler conspire to undermine our nation’s immigration laws for his own personal profit, but eight migrants lost their lives because of his callous and reckless disregard for those whom entrusted him,” said Special Agent in Charge Craig Larrabee of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). “HSI remains committed to working with our law enforcement partners, and utilizing our unique investigative authorities, to bring those responsible for horrible tragedies like this to justice.”

As part of his plea, Tena admitted to coordinating and recruiting co-conspirators to transport illegal aliens using watercraft and vehicles in both March 2019 and February 2022. Tena also agreed to the forfeiture of several properties in Roma and Pharr that he admitted to purchasing with the proceeds he received from the conspiracy.

As part of their pleas, Julia Torres and Jose Torres both admitted to their involvement in the March 2019 failed alien smuggling attempt.

On July 26, Israel Torres also pleaded guilty to his involvement in the March 2019 incident.

U.S. District Judge Roland Olvera accepted the pleas and set sentencing for Dec. 20. At that time, all four face up to life in federal prison and a possible $250,000 maximum fine.

Tena has been and will remain in custody pending sentencing.

Julia Torres, Israel Torres and Jose Torres were permitted to remain on bond pending their hearings.

HSI conducted the investigation with the assistance of Border Patrol; Coast Guard; Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations; police departments in Port Mansfield and South Padre Island; Texas Rangers; Texas Game Wardens; sheriff’s offices in Kenedy, Duval and Willacy Counties; and the Willacy County District Attorney’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Edgardo J. Rodriguez and David A. Lindenmuth are prosecuting the case.

Updated September 27, 2023

Human Smuggling