Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Guilty Pleas for a Dozen Involved in Human Smuggling Operation

The leader of an alien smuggling organization and six others have pleaded guilty for their involvement in a conspiracy to harbor and transport illegal aliens. These guilty pleas were announced by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas, and Robert Rutt, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston.

A sealed indictment was returned Jan. 25 and later unsealed following the arrest of 12 persons involved in this conspiracy. With the March 5 guilty plea of John Castillo, 31, of Wharton, Texas, all 12 now stand convicted. On Feb. 22, the indictment was superseded and unsealed upon the arrest of an additional 19 defendants in association with this case.

Armando Olmedo-Trevino, 47, is considered to be the leader of this nearly decade-long conspiracy. He pleaded guilty Mar. 2 before Senior U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack. As part of his guilty plea, Olmedo-Trevino admitted he engaged in a conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens in buildings and other places illegal aliens from Aug. 9, 2002 to Jan. 31, 2012. He also pleaded guilty to transporting illegal aliens. The following five others also entered guilty pleas on Mar. 2: Tracy Howard, 47, Christian Russo, 39, Oscar Garza-Perales, 28, Sandro Alvarez-Maldonado, 35, and Cristobal Ochoa, 48. Five others had previously entered guilty pleas and will be sentenced May 3: Maria Herrera, 34, Norma Leticia Silva-Garcia, 38, Petronilo Sanchez-Jimenez, 42, Donna Simkins, 45, and Ricky Garibaldi, 46.

According to court documents, Olmedo-Trevino and others engaged in a conspiracy to harbor and transport illegal aliens from Aug. 9, 2002 until his arrest on Jan. 27. Following his arrest, the indictment was later superseded to add defendants and reflect the final alien smuggling attempt Jan. 31. Olmedo-Trevino began with the smuggling organization by transporting aliens. He was caught transporting aliens on at least two occasions. Thereafter, he became the leader of the conspiracy, running the operation from his home in Wharton, Texas. Throughout the conspiracy, Olmedo-Trevino worked with numerous people who recruited drivers to transport aliens for the organization, including Castillo, Simkins, Howard, Russo, Garibaldi and Garza-Perales. Olmedo-Trevino also worked with other co-conspirators, including Sanchez-Jimenez, to smuggle illegal aliens across the border and then harboring them in stash houses located in the Rio Grande Valley until they could be transported throughout the United States.

In most cases, no more than five illegal aliens were transported at a time. They were hidden underneath blankets or luggage, in between the seats of an SUV or minivan. However, in a few instances, illegal aliens were transported in other ways, such as in car trunks. In June 2011, Olmedo-Trevino and others modified a trailer with a false compartment intended to conceal up to 15 illegal aliens.

Over the course of the 10-year conspiracy, special agents seized about 400 illegal aliens being transported.

Olmedo-Trevino, Castillo and the others who pleaded guilty Mar. 2 are set for sentencing May 24. All those convicted to date face up to 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. The U.S. government is seeking forfeiture of about $83,000 and two residences seized as part of the overall investigation.

The indictment and arrests resulted from an on-going investigation by HSI in cooperation with the U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Texas. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Chad W. Cowan and Jeffrey D. Preston, Southern District of Texas, are prosecuting the case.

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