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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

4 Mexican nationals sentenced for harboring illegal aliens at a Mission, TX ranch

MCALLEN, Texas - Four Mexican nationals were sentenced here Wednesday for harboring 80 illegal aliens at a ranch in Mission, Texas. This sentence was announced by acting U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent in Charge Jerry Robinette.

Pedro Mendez-Cruz, 52, Ubaldo Torres-Perez, 27, Alfredo Perez-Fuentes, 33, and Eloy Torres-Cuevas, 30, all Mexican nationals, appeared before U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa for sentencing.

Mendez-Cruz and Perez Fuentes were sentenced to prison terms of 57 months each; Torres-Cuevas was sentenced to 63 months; and Torres-Perez was sentenced to 575 days in prison.

Judge Hinojosa also ordered all four defendants to serve a two-year-term of supervised release, which becomes effective upon their release from prison and during anytime the defendants are in the United States. Failure to abide by the conditions imposed by the court can result in an additional prison sentence.

The four Mexican nationals pleaded guilty in June 2007 to harboring illegal aliens after they were arrested a month earlier. Since their arrest they have remained in federal custody without bond.

On May 23, 2007, ICE agents responded to call from the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office and the Texas Department of Public Safety. They were investigating a report of stolen F-250 Ford pick-up trucks at a ranch located a quarter-mile north of 3-Mile Line Road on Bentsen Palm Drive in Mission. At the ranch, ICE and law enforcement officers discovered 81 illegal aliens from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Mendez-Cruz and Perez-Fuentes, identified as the caretakers of the illegal aliens, were taken into custody immediately without incident. Minutes later Torres-Perez was arrested after he arrived at the ranch with 12 illegal aliens in the bed of the pick-up truck he was driving. Torres-Cuevas was initially taken into administrative custody along with the remaining illegal aliens. But he was later identified by ICE as one of the persons involved in transporting the aliens.

The illegal aliens were held in a barn-like structure designed to house animals; it was enclosed with aluminum and plywood, and had no air conditioning. The structure contained an open latrine that reeked of human and animal feces that law enforcement later discovered was infested with flies.

The investigation revealed that Mendez-Cruz and Perez-Fuentes were the caretakers of the illegal aliens while they were held at the ranch. Torres-Perez picked up the aliens near the Rio Grande River and transported them to the ranch. Torres-Cuevas transported the aliens to locations south of the border patrol checkpoint were the illegal aliens circumvented the checkpoint on foot.

All four men will be processed for deportation after they serve their prison sentences.

This case was investigated by ICE with assistance from the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Assistant U.S. Attorney Anibal J.Alaniz, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.