One Arrested And Another Convicted In Smuggling Organization Spanning From Brownsville To Houston
BROWNSVILLE, Texas – With the guilty plea today of Ruth Fernandez Morales-Lopez, 32, six people have now been convicted for their roles in an alien smuggling operation operating throughout South Texas, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson along with Special Agent in Charge Janice Ayala of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in San Antonio. The seventh and final defendant - Alfredo Prieto, 43, was arrested yesterday and made his initial appearance in Houston before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Smith this morning. Prieto and Morales-Lopez are both illegal aliens who resided in Houston and Laguna Vista, respectively.
Morales-Lopez and Prieto were charged along with Abram Erasmo Rodriguez, 21, a U.S. citizen from Los Fresnos, Olegario Reyes-Bonola, 50, Esteban Castro-Molina, 40, Digma Salinas-De Rivera, 41, and Jose Antonio Marin-Sanchez, 43, in a 14-count indictment returned in Brownsville Dec. 11, 2014. All were charged for their roles in a conspiracy to transport undocumented aliens to stash houses in the Brownsville area, where they were concealed until being transported north to Houston.
Reyes-Bonola, Castro-Molina and Salinas-De Rivera, all illegal aliens who resided in San Benito, were arrested in San Benito at a stash house harboring 30 aliens on Nov. 19, 2014. All admitted they were responsible for concealing and harboring the aliens at the direction of Morales-Lopez. Marin-Sanchez, also an illegal alien himself who resided in Brownsville, was arrested the same day as he was transporting undocumented aliens to the San Benito stash house.
Further investigation into the organization revealed more than $1 million in smuggling fees being laundered through bank accounts and money services businesses.
“HSI special agents often investigate complex financial schemes in order to disrupt and dismantle the ongoing operations of transnational criminal organizations,” said Ayala. “These investigations deprive the organizations from enjoying the fruits of these illicit proceeds and prevent them from furthering the ongoing criminal enterprise. HSI will continue to aggressively investigate fraudulent financial schemes that jeopardize the integrity of our financial system.”
Morales-Lopez pleaded guilty to bringing in and harboring aliens and money laundering. She admitted she was the person who decided who could stay and who could go at the San Benito stash house based on whether they paid their smuggling fees. She further admitted $1,091,229.90 in her bank account was for alien smuggling fees and that she structured her withdrawals from that account to circumvent the Bank Secrecy Act.
Rodriguez previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bring into and transport certain aliens within the United States, admitting that from November 2013 through August 2014 he participated in the conspiracy. Specifically, he was instructed to pick up the aliens and transport them to the stash house. The plea agreement further indicates that he opened a bank account at the direction of Morales-Lopez. He then accepted cash deposits from families of the smuggled aliens as payment and turned it over to Morales-Lopez.
Castro-Molina, Reyes-Bonola, Salinas-De Rivera and Marin-Sanchez all pleaded guilty to bringing in and harboring certain aliens.
The six convicted are all set for sentencing on April 7, 2015, before U.S. District Judge Hilda G. Tagle. Morales-Lopez faces up to 10 years in federal prison for the smuggling charge and up to 20 years for money laundering. The remaining five each face up to 10 years of federal imprisonment.
The charges against Prieto are pending. He is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.
HSI led the investigation with assistance from Border Patrol. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ana Cano and Karen Betancourt are prosecuting the case.