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Press Release

Stash house owner sentenced after people found hidden in load of watermelon

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

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A 35-year-old San Benito man has been ordered to federal prison for conspiring to transport illegal aliens within the United States, announced U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.

Elias Lopez III pleaded guilty July 26 for his role in a conspiracy to transport illegal aliens from South Texas through the Border Patrol checkpoint near Sarita.

Today U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos sentenced Lopez to 33 months to be immediately followed by two years of supervised release. 

On Dec. 10, 2021, authorities discovered 24 undocumented aliens hidden among a load of watermelon in a commercial trailer at the checkpoint near Sarita.

The investigation revealed some had crossed into the United States a few weeks prior and had been kept in a “stash house” until the arrangement of transportation through the checkpoint.

Two women identified Lopez and his wife as the owners and caretakers of the stash house. They also gave information about the house and where it was located. The women stayed in the house with Lopez and his wife for approximately three weeks while waiting to be transported.

Earlier in the evening on Dec. 10, Lopez drove them from the house to a dark, brushy lot where the tractor trailer was waiting. The trailer doors were open and the lights were on. The women were loaded into the trailer and told to hide among the pallets of watermelon. The trailer did not stop again until it reached the checkpoint.

Lopez’s wife was also charged and pled guilty to the offense. She is set to be sentenced in March 2023. The driver of the tractor trailer was also charged with the offense, and he is currently a fugitive. 

Lopez will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

Border Patrol and Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ashley Martin prosecuted the case.

Updated December 8, 2022

Human Smuggling