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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

California woman sentenced in Houston to more than 7 years following smuggling operation resulting in man's death near Amarillo

HOUSTON — A California woman was sentenced Tuesday to seven years and one month in federal prison for conspiracy to transport and harbor aliens, which resulted in the death of an illegal alien from Mexico.

This sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. This investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with the assistance of Oldham County Sheriff's Office, the Texas Rangers, and the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Demi Mishel Muniz, of Los Angeles, Calif., was sentenced to 85 months in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal. At the hearing, evidence was provided that the victim likely would have survived had he received proper and timely medical care. The judge also found that Muniz obstructed justice by lying about her role in the offense to federal agents, and also to the jury during her trial testimony. Muniz will also serve a three-year-term of supervised release after she completes her prison term. A Houston federal jury returned a guilty verdict against Muniz following a three-day trial Jan. 31.

According to court documents, on Aug. 18, 2010, the Oldham County Sheriff's Office was notified about a body discovered on the side of Interstate 40 outside Vega, Texas, about 20 miles west of Amarillo. The identity of the 38-year-old man was discovered following receipt of an inquiry from the man's son.

The man had been smuggled into the United States from Mexico, and was in the process of being transported from Houston to Los Angeles. During the course of the journey, Muniz contacted the man's wife and provided a bank account number for her to deposit $650 in smuggling fees. Later, Muniz contacted the wife again and informed her that he was ill. The man's wife told Muniz that her husband was diabetic and required insulin; she requested he be taken to a hospital. Muniz refused and stated she had other people in the van and had to keep moving. A few hours later, the wife was called and told not to deposit the money into the bank account because her husband had been "left behind."

An autopsy of the deceased man determined he had died of a combination of pneumonia and diabetes. A co-defendant testified Muniz and others were heavily involved in alien smuggling; and during the course of the trip Muniz refused to provide help to the man when he was ill.

The bank accounts of Muniz were extensively reviewed and it was determined that about $84,000 in the account was derived from unknown sources. Agents determined many of the deposits were from various other states and that this was a characteristic consistent with alien smuggling operations.

Muniz previously stated she was not involved in the smuggling venture and was not in the van with the deceased. However, Muniz elected to testify in the trial. During her testimony, she admitted being in the van, but said she did not know the aliens were illegal. She further denied having talked to the widow, and also denied being told the deceased was diabetic and required insulin. The jury discounted her testimony and found her guilty.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Julie Searle and Douglas Davis, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.