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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

12th individual sentenced in 2003 Texas human smuggling tragedy

HOUSTON - A Harlingen, Texas, resident was sentenced on Monday to more than 14 years in federal prison for his involvement in a conspiracy resulting in 19 smuggled aliens dying aboard an ill-fated tractor trailer abandoned near Victoria, Texas, in May 2003.

The sentence was announced by U.S Attorney Tim Johnson, Southern District of Texas. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other agencies conducted the investigation.

Abelardo Flores Jr., 40, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore. Flores will serve 175 months in federal prison, without parole, to be followed by a five-year term of supervised release for his smuggling conspiracy conviction. Judge Gilmore also imposed a $3,000 fine and assessed a $100 special assessment.

Flores previously pleaded guilty to a smuggling conspiracy charge and ultimately testified at the trials of seven co-defendants.

The ICE investigation determined Flores was a member of an organization that smuggled aliens into the United States from the following countries: Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and other countries.

On May 13, 2003, Flores phoned Tyrone Mapletoft Williams, who was traveling from San Antonio, Texas, to Harlingen in a tractor-trailer rig accompanied by co-defendant Fatima Holloway. Upon arriving at a truck stop in Harlingen on May 13, 2003, Williams and Holloway met co-defendant Fredy Giovanni Garcia-Tobar. Garcia-Tobar rented a room at a Horizon Inn in Harlingen for Williams and Holloway and transported them to the hotel. Williams left his rig parked at the truck stop.

Later that same day, Flores met with Williams and Holloway at the hotel on two separate occasions. During the second meeting, Flores gave Williams a brown paper sack containing $7,500 as payment to transport a group of illegal aliens from Harlingen to Robstown, a city near Corpus Christi, Texas.

At about 9 a.m. on May 13, 2003, Flores guided Williams and Holloway, who were traveling in Williams' rig, to a field near Harlingen. After the rig's lights had been extinguished, the rig was backed into the field. At this site, at least 74 illegal aliens were loaded into the refrigerator trailer of Williams' rig. After the illegal aliens were loaded, Williams proceeded to Highway 77, continuing northbound toward Robstown. During the trip, plans changed and Williams agreed to transport the illegal aliens to Houston for an additional sum.

On the morning of May 14, 2003, officers of the Victoria County Sheriff's Office discovered Williams' refrigerator trailer near Victoria. The bodies of 17 illegal aliens plus two others were found by deputies in and around the trailer. Two were in critical condition and later died at area hospitals.

A jury convicted Williams of having recklessly placed the lives of the illegal aliens in jeopardy and at risk of serious bodily injury, and that Williams' deliberate, reckless conduct caused the death of 19 of the trailer's occupants. Williams was sentenced to 19 life terms of imprisonment.

Flores is the twelfth person to have been convicted for their involvement in this tragic smuggling operation; they are all presently serving lengthy prison terms.

This case was extensively investigated by ICE offices in Houston, San Antonio, Harlingen, Brownsville and McAllen, Texas; the Department of Housing and Urban Development; the Department of Public Safety, including the Texas Rangers; the Victoria County Sheriff's Department; and the police departments in McAllen, Harlingen and Victoria, Texas.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel C. Rodriguez, Jeffery Vaden and Tony R. Roberts, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.