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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Previously deported man from Mexico charged in deaths of 7 smuggled aliens

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A previously deported illegal alien from Mexico was charged Thursday with smuggling a group of 14 illegal aliens that resulted in seven being killed and one injured in critical condition.

These charges were announced by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas, along with Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Houston.

The indictment returned April 18 charges Idelfonso Garcia-Benitez, 20, of Michoacan, Mexico, with one count of conspiring to transport aliens, 14 counts of transporting an alien, and one count of illegally re-entering the United States after previously being deported.

According to documents filed of record in the case, on March 20, 2013, at about 11 p.m., a Kingsville Police Department officer observed a pickup truck violate state traffic law by disregarding a stop sign. The officer attempted to conduct a traffic stop on this vehicle, but the vehicle fled, leading to a brief pursuit.

The driver crashed into a vehicle barrier on General Cavazos Avenue in Kleberg County that had been deployed by the Kingsville Naval Air Station. A total of 15 illegal aliens were discovered at the scene. Of those, Garcia-Benitez was identified as the driver. Seven were killed and one remains in critical condition.

"The tragic loss of life in this case shows the very real risks that people face when they put themselves in the hands of a smuggler," said Moskowitz. "Those responsible for illegally moving people into and through our country place their personal profit above everything else. They are driven by greed with little regard for the health and well-being of their human cargo, which can be a deadly combination."

Garcia-Benitez was arrested at the scene of the accident. He has been in custody since that time, where he will remain pending further criminal proceedings. He is expected to appear for an arraignment hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Owsley early next week.

If convicted, Garcia-Benitez faces up to 20 years in prison and a possible $250,000 fine.

This case is being investigated by HSI and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey S. Miller.

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