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November 4, 2021Del Rio, TX, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

10 individuals face criminal charges for human smuggling incident resulting in multiple deaths, following HSI investigation

Two vehicles were involved in the horrific human smuggling crash, March 15, that claimed the lives of nine noncitizens near Del Rio, Texas.

DEL RIO, Texas – On Nov. 4, special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) Del Rio office arrested a woman from Austin, Texas the tenth and final defendant charged in an 11-count indictment involving human smuggling resulting in death.

HSI in coordination with Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and U.S. Border Patrol (BP) are investigating this case.

On Wednesday, Veronica Torres-Mendez, 34, was arrested at a residence in Austin without incident.

The following have also been charged with one count of conspiracy to transport undocumented noncitizens: Sebastian Tovar, 25, of Toledo, Ohio; Nicolas Mondragon-Gonzalez, aka “Chayo” and “Flaco,” 33, of Austin; Veronica Torres-Mendez, 34, of Austin; Jennifer Oralia Davis, aka “Paypa,” 40, of San Antonio; Ruben Junior Rodriguez-Jaimes, 19, of Bastrop, Texas; Lauren Michelle Malmquist, aka “Mama” and “Lala,” 32, of Round Rock, Texas ; Eduardo Rivera Benitez, aka “Lalo” and “Casper,” 23, of Bastrop; Marco Antonio Hernandez, aka “Temo,” 19, of Paige, Texas; and Jose Eli Rodriguez, 21, of Austin.

According to court documents, on March 15, Tovar was driving a Dodge Ram near Del Rio when a DPS trooper attempted to stop the vehicle. Tovar tried to evade law enforcement and eventually crashed the vehicle into oncoming traffic. Eight people, who were in the truck, died from injuries sustained from the crash as well as one person was seriously injured. All nine were noncitizens. In addition, two U.S. citizens were seriously injured in the head-on collision when Tovar struck their vehicle.

After the crash, Border Patrol encountered a Ford F-150 stopped in traffic near the crash site. Border Patrol directed the truck driver to turn around and subsequently all occupants fled the vehicle, absconding into nearby brush. Border Patrol were able to locate 12 noncitizens who ran from the truck. After interviewing two of the noncitizens, Border Patrol determined that the occupants of the Dodge and Ford were part of a human smuggling operation that was illegally transporting 20 noncitizens into the U.S.

Tovar, Mondragon, Torres, Davis, Rodriguez-Jaimes, Malmquist and Benitez are also charged with one count of transporting noncitizens resulting in death. Tovar is also charged with one count of conspiracy to transport noncitizens resulting in serious bodily injury and one count of illegal transportation of noncitizens resulting in serious bodily injury. Mondragon, Davis and Rodriguez-Jaimes are additionally charged with two counts of transportation of noncitizens. Torres is additionally charged with four counts of transportation of noncitizens. Hernandez, Jose Rodriguez, and Luna are additional charged with one count of transportation of noncitizens.

All defendants face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for conspiracy to transport noncitizens. Tovar, Mondragon, Torres, Davis, Rodriguez-Jaimes, Malmquist and Benitez face a maximum sentence of life in prison for transportation of noncitizens resulting in death charge. Tovar faces a maximum 20 years in prison on each of the conspiracy to transport and the transportation of noncitizens resulting in serious bodily injury charges. Mondragon, Torres, Davis, Rodriguez-Jaimes, Hernandez, Jose Rodriguez and Luna face up to 10 years in prison for each count of transportation charged.

If convictions result, a federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Banister, of the Western District of Texas,  is prosecuting the case.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of DHS and a vital U.S. asset in combatting transnational crime and threats. One of HSI’s top priorities is to protect the public from crimes of victimization, and HSI’s child exploitation investigations program is a central component of this mission set. HSI is recognized as a global leader in this investigative discipline, and is committed to utilizing its vast authorities, international footprint and strong government and non-government partnerships to identify and rescue child victims, identify and apprehend offenders, prevent transnational child sexual abuse, and help make the internet a safer place for children.

To report a crime, call 866-347-2423 (TTY for hearing impaired: 802-872-6196).

An indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law

Updated: 11/08/2021