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July 21, 2022San Antonio, TX, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

2 defendants indicted in tractor trailer smuggling incident resulting in 53 deaths following HSI San Antonio, multi-agency investigation

SAN ANTONIO – A federal grand jury in San Antonio returned an indictment July 20 on two men charged in the fatal tractor trailer incident that occurred on June 27, resulting in the death of 50 adults and three minor children and injuring 10 adults and one minor child. The investigation is being conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with assistance from the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD), the Palestine Police Department, Joint Task Force Alpha, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and U.S. Border Patrol (BP) Laredo Sector.

Homero Zamorano Jr., 46, and Christian Martinez, 28, both from Palestine, Texas, were charged in a federal indictment with one count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death; one count of transportation of illegal aliens resulting in death; one count of conspiracy to transport aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy; and one count of transportation of illegal aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy.

Upon conviction, the charges for conspiracy to transport and transport resulting in death carry a maximum penalty of life in prison or the death penalty. The U.S. Attorney General will decide whether to seek the death penalty later. Should the Attorney General determine that the circumstances of the offense are such that a sentence of death is justified, the law requires that notice be filed with the court at a reasonable time before trial. The defendants face up to 20 years in prison for the transporting resulting in serious bodily injury charges. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.

According to court documents, on June 27, HSI responded to the scene of a human smuggling event involving a tractor trailer and 64 individuals suspected of entering the United States illegally. SAPD officers advised HSI special agents that they arrived at the location of the tractor trailer in southwest San Antonio after receiving 911 calls from concerned citizens. At the scene, SAPD officers discovered multiple individuals inside the tractor trailer, on the ground and in nearby brush, many of them deceased and some of them incapacitated. SAPD officers were led to the location of an individual, later identified as Zamorano, who was observed hiding in the brush after attempting to abscond. Zamorano was detained by SAPD officers.

A search warrant was executed on a cell phone belonging to Zamorano. During the investigation, it was discovered that communications occurred between Zamorano and Martinez concerning the smuggling event. BP provided HSI agents surveillance footage of the tractor trailer crossing through an immigration checkpoint. The driver could be seen wearing a black shirt with stripes and a hat. HSI agents confirmed Zamorano matched the individual from the surveillance footage and was wearing the same clothing.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amanda Brown, Sarah Spears and Jose Luis Acosta, Western District of Texas, are prosecuting the case.

These charges resulted in coordination with Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA). The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas is part of the JTFA, which was established by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in June 2021 to marshal the investigative and prosecutorial resources of the Department of Justice, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to enhance U.S. enforcement efforts against the most prolific and dangerous human smuggling and trafficking groups operating in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The Task Force focuses on disrupting and dismantling smuggling and trafficking networks that abuse, exploit, or endanger migrants, pose national security threats, and are involved in organized crime. JTFA consists of federal prosecutors and attorneys from U.S. Attorneys’ Offices along the Southwest Border (District of Arizona, Southern District of California, Southern District of Texas, and Western District of Texas), from the Criminal Division and the Civil Rights Division, along with law enforcement agents and analysts from DHS’s ICE, and CBP’s BP, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of DHS, responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 special agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States, and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

Individuals with additional information about this investigation or other suspicious activity should contact HSI’s Tip Line at 1-866-347-2423.

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: 07/21/2022