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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
03/03/2011

6 sentenced to prison for transporting illegal aliens in tractor trailer 'air dams'

MCALLEN, Texas - A total of six defendants charged in two separate and unrelated cases have been sentenced to prison this week for transporting illegal aliens in the "air dams" of tractor trailers announced U.S. Attorney José Angel Moreno on Thursday. The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Border Patrol (BP).

An air dam is a spoiler dome located on the top of a tractor trailer's cab. It is designed to lessen air resistance from the trailer it is towing. Since the trailer may be taller than the cab, it would provide a very non-aerodynamic effect without the air dam. The air dam was not designed for use as a passenger compartment and poses a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury to anyone transported in that manner.

Five of the six sentenced to prison this week were charged together in one indictment for using this extremely dangerous means to transport people. The five were sentenced on March 3 by U.S. District Judge Randy Crane. They were all convicted in December 2010 after pleading guilty to transporting illegal aliens within the United States inside the air dams of tractor trailers in or about November 2010. In determining the length of the prison term handed down, the judge took into consideration the total number of aliens transported, the substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury to the aliens based upon their being transported within the air dams, and that at least one alien sustained a burn to his arm and another fractured his ankle while trying to get into the air dam.

Domingo Sandoval-Mendoza, 31, of Mexico, who pleaded guilty in December 2010 to the smuggling charge and to being an illegal alien unlawfully possessing a firearm, was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison. The other four defendants, José Asuncion Olivares, 18, of Mission, Texas, Antonio Ibarra-Olvera, 57, of Mexico, Roberto Rodriguez-Casas, 20, of Mission, and Juan Ramon Sandoval-Mendoza, 28, of Mexico, also pleaded guilty in December. Olivares and Sandoval Mendoza were each sentenced to 27-month terms, while Ibarra-Olvera and Rodriguez-Casas and were each sentenced to 41 months in prison. Each of the five has also been ordered to serve a two-year-term of supervised release.

The ICE HSI and U.S. Border Patrol investigation leading to the charges against these five men began with surveillance of a tractor trailer parking lot in Edinburg, Texas, and the discovery of three aliens hidden within the air dam area of a tractor trailer. Agents discovered that these defendants had previously participated in transporting other aliens within the air dams of tractor trailers, without the apparent knowledge of the tractor trailer drivers.

The sixth defendant sentenced this week charged in a separate and unrelated but similar case, Pedro Junior Perez, 18, of Donna, Texas, was sentenced March 3 by U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa to 24 months in federal prison to be followed by a two-year-term of supervised release. Perez also pleaded guilty in December 2010. In this case, ICE HSI and Border Patrol agents had been conducting surveillance of a vehicle driven by Perez, which had been identified as being used to transport aliens.

Upon conducting an immigration inspection of the occupants of the vehicle, agents discovered that two of the occupants were in the United States illegally. Through further investigation, it was learned that Perez had previously participated in transporting additional aliens within the air dams of other tractor trailers, without the knowledge of the tractor trailer drivers.

All defendants are presently in custody and will remain in custody pending transfer to a Bureau of Prisons facility where they will serve their sentence. The foreign national defendants also face possible deportation after they complete their prison terms.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Linda Requénez, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted both cases.