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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

4 south Texas residents sentenced to prison for alien smuggling leading to the death of 3 aliens

McAllen, Texas. — Four South Texas residents were sentenced on Thursday to federal prison for conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. The sentences resulted from an investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigation (HSI).

U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez handed down sentences to the following individuals:

  • Brenda Abi Bazaldua-Mariscal, 29, sentenced to five years;
  • Canuto Rodriguez Jr., 24, sentenced to 10 years;
  • Genaro Gomez, 24, sentenced to 10 years; and
  • Maria Del Carmen Martinez-Fraga, 33, was sentenced to eight years and one month.

All four were also sentenced to three years of supervised release after they complete their prison sentences. The sentencing hearing for co-defendant Rosa Isela Bazaldua, 36, is set for Jan. 10. Martinez-Fraga, is an illegal alien from Mexico; all others are U.S. citizens residing in Mission, Texas.

"Targeting smugglers who prey on human beings is an ICE top priority," said Jerry Robinette, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in San Antonio. "Human smugglers have a callous disregard for the value of life. So we will continue to aggressively pursue these alien smugglers who jeopardize the lives of others for their personal profit."

According to court documents, the investigation began on June 28, 2011, when ICE HSI received a call from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers regarding three deceased illegal aliens found in Duval County, Texas. At the location, ICE HSI agents determined the three had been struck and killed by an oncoming vehicle around midnight. Near the scene of the incident, seven other illegal aliens turned themselves in to agents and acknowledged the three deceased were part of their group, and indicated that one of them was their foot guide. A total of 15 illegal aliens were ultimately apprehended, some under the age of 16, from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.

The aliens explained that they had been walking through the brush for about five days, and they ran out of food and water on the fourth day. Before his death, according to the aliens, the deceased guide spoke to someone via cellular telephone and was informed that they could not be picked up as planned due to law enforcement presence in the area. Sometime before midnight on June 28, the guide informed the aliens that someone was going to drop off food and water. The guide and two aliens emerged from the brush and proceeded to the dark roadway. They were later observed alongside the road before they were struck by a pick-up truck.

Further investigation led to the identification of Bazaldua, Bazaldua-Mariscal and Rodriguez as members of the alien smuggling organization who harbored the aliens in residences in Mission. As a result of the ICE HSI investigation, agents subsequently identified Gomez and Martinez-Fraga as members of the alien smuggling organization who arranged to harbor and transport the aliens further north. Martinez-Fraga was also identified as the woman who took the 3-year-old child of one of the aliens and was to arrange for her transportation north. The child was ultimately delivered to family members in Houston.

On July 6, agents arrested Bazaldua, Bazaldua-Mariscal and Rodriguez. At that time, agents discovered an additional 15 illegal aliens hiding in the residence. Agents also discovered the following items in the residence: one Lorcin Model 19 9mm handgun, seven rounds of Luger 9mm ammunition, seven cellular telephones, several money wire transfer documents, and a ledger which included the names of about 130 aliens that had been harbored at the residence. Subsequently, Martinez-Fraga and Gomez were also arrested. At the time of Martinez-Fraga's arrest, agents discovered one illegal alien from Honduras hidden in a shed in the back of the property, as well as two cellular phones and several money wire transfer documents.

All five defendants pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harbor aliens on Sept. 28. Fraga also pleaded guilty to harboring the alien found at her home on Aug. 16. They have all been in custody since their arrest where they will remain pending transfer to a Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia A. Rigney, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.