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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
04/18/2012

2 charged in death of smuggled alien during trip from Houston

HOUSTON – Two defendants were charged Wednesday with smuggling a group of illegal aliens from Houston to Los Angeles that left one of the aliens dead, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. The investigation is being conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

The indictment charges Demi Mishel Muniz, 33, and Luis Aceituno, 26, both of Hawthorne, Calif., with one count of conspiring to transport and harbor illegal aliens. Already in custody, they are set to appear for a detention hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Wm. Smith April 24.

According to court documents, Muniz and Aceituno transported a group of smuggled aliens from Houston to Los Angeles in August 2010. Shortly after leaving Houston, the defendants allegedly spoke by cell phone with the wife of one of the aliens to arrange a $650 payment to Muniz's bank account.

During the trip, the alien, who was a diabetic, became sick. Sometime later, Muniz allegedly called the wife back and told her that her husband was having health problems and would be dropped off near Amarillo, Texas. When the wife informed Muniz her husband had diabetes and needed insulin medication, Muniz allegedly stated that she could not help him because she had other people in the van and needed to keep moving. Muniz then advised the alien's wife not to bother sending the money because she was dropping him off short of California, which was their final destination.

The alien's body was later discovered in a ditch at a rest stop outside Vega, Texas. The alien was identified after his son contacted authorities and reported his father's last known whereabouts as outside Amarillo. According to an autopsy report, the alien died from lobar pneumonia, and would have survived if he had received timely medical treatment.

Muniz and Aceituno were arrested in Los Angeles March 21. Since then, the two have remained in custody and were transported to Houston. If convicted, both defendants face up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Searle, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting the case.