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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

US seeks death penalty in Houston human smuggling case

HOUSTON – U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has authorized U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas, to seek the death penalty against a U.S. permanent resident from El Salvador for harboring aliens which resulted in the death of two Honduran men. The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation.

The death penalty is being sought against defendant William Rene Duran-Gomez, 40, a U.S. permanent resident from El Salvador.

A superseding indictment returned Oct. 4 also charges six defendants with multiple counts of transporting and harboring aliens, and money laundering, announced U.S. Attorney Magidson.

The superseding indictment, returned Thursday, charges Duran-Gomez with conspiracy to transport and harbor aliens, money laundering, and harboring aliens resulting in the death of two Honduran men.

Jose Alberto Bolanos-Garza, 31, and Efrain Rodriguez Mendoza, 36, both citizens from Mexico, are charged with conspiracy to transport and harbor aliens, and harboring aliens resulting in death. Jose Fuentes, 58, from Mexico; and Patricia Holguin, 46, and Mauricio Mercado, 39, both from El Salvador, are also named in the indictment and charged with conspiracy to transport and harbor aliens.

The superseding indictment alleges all six defendants conspired to smuggle aliens into the United States.

On or about Nov. 7, 2006, illegal aliens were allegedly delivered to an address in southwest Houston. The superseding indictment indicates that some of the aliens started a fire at the warehouse where they were being held to attempt an escape. This attempt failed. As a consequence, the aliens were allegedly beaten by Duran, Bolanos-Garza and Mendoza as punishment. Two of the smuggled aliens who attempted to escape died as a result of the beatings.

The superseding indictment further alleges Duran caused the bodies of the deceased victims to be moved from the warehouse to a vacant lot in Fort Bend County where they were discovered Nov. 15, 2006.

Duran and Bolanos-Garza are in federal custody where they will remain pending further criminal proceeding. Fuentes, Holguin and Mercado were permitted to remain on bond. Mendoza is a fugitive and a warrant remains outstanding for his arrest.

If convicted of conspiracy to transport and harbor illegal aliens, each defendant faces a possible 10-year-term of imprisonment. Duran also faces up to 20 years imprisonment if convicted of money laundering. Harboring aliens resulting in the death of a person carries a possible life sentence. Duran, however, could potentially face death if he is convicted of this offence.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ruben R. Perez, Joe Magliolo and Jennie Basile, Southern District of Texas, are prosecuting the case.

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