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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

6 sentenced for their roles in decade-long human smuggling organization

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Six people were sentenced Thursday for their roles in a conspiracy to harbor and transport illegal aliens, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas, and Robert Rutt, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston.

On May 24, the following co-conspirators were sentenced by Senior U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack: Petronilo Sanchez-Jimenez, 42, Norma Leticia Silva-Garcia, aka Norma Sanchez and Norma Rocha, 38, and Sandro Alvarez-Maldonado, 35, all from Edinburg, Texas; Oscar Garza-Perales, 28, from Wharton, Texas; and Tracy Howard, 47, and Christian Russo, 39, both from Houston.

Sanchez-Jimenez, who smuggled illegal aliens across the border and harbored them in stash houses located in the Rio Grande Valley, was sentenced to 87 months in prison. Silva-Garcia and Alvarez-Maldonado assisted Sanchez-Jimenez in harboring illegal aliens. Both received 67 and 51 months in prison, respectively. Howard and Russo, who began the smuggling operation by transporting aliens themselves, later recruited drivers for the organization. They were sentenced to respective sentences of 87 and 78 months in prison. Garza-Perales also recruited drivers and was sentenced to 71 months. The remaining 23 co-conspirators identified in this investigation are scheduled to be sentenced later this year.

The leader of the conspiracy — Armando Olmedo-Trevino, 47, of Wharton, Texas — is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 16. According to his guilty plea, he and others engaged in a conspiracy to harbor and transport illegal aliens from Aug. 9, 2002, until his arrest Jan. 27. He began transporting aliens himself. He was caught transporting aliens on at least two occasions. Afterward, he became the leader, running the operation from his Wharton home.

With the exception of aliens smuggled across ranches in the Falfurrias, Texas, area, illegal aliens were picked up in the Edinburg area and transported north through a border patrol checkpoint in Falfurrias or Sarita, Texas. In most cases, no more than five illegal aliens were transported, hidden under blankets or luggage in between the seats of an SUV or minivan. However, in a few instances, illegal aliens were transported in other ways, such as in the trunk of a car. In June 2011, Olmedo and others modified a trailer with a false compartment that was intended to conceal up to 15 illegal aliens.

Over the course of the 10-year conspiracy, HSI special agents seized about 400 aliens being transported by the organization. The organization transported an estimated 40 aliens per month.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Chad W. Cowan and Jeffrey D. Preston, Southern District of Texas, are prosecuting this case.