MCALLEN, Texas — Seven members of a human smuggling group were sentenced April 25 for their role in harboring and transporting more than 200 illegal aliens from the Rio Grande Valley to Houston.
This sentence was announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick, Southern District of Texas. This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Border Patrol and Duval County (Texas) Sheriff’s Office.
Jose Luis Soto-Lopez, 52, and his daughter, Erica Janine Soto, 27, both residing in Brownsville, Texas, were respectively sentenced to 54 months and 21 months in federal prison for their roles in the alien smuggling scheme that Soto-Lopez led. Soto will also serve two years of supervised release. Since Soto-Lopez is not a U.S. citizen, he is expected to face deportation proceedings after he completes his prison term. This 30-month human smuggling conspiracy ran from at least Feb. 10, 2014, through Sept. 1, 2016.
According to court documents, Soto-Lopez and Soto recruited individuals to either harbor illegal aliens in stash houses throughout Hidalgo County or serve as guides for illegal aliens who were then transported from stash houses to a residence in Houston.
Soto-Lopez and Soto coordinated and were involved in unsuccessfully transporting 48 illegal aliens including a 13-year-old child and other minor children, on at least seven different occasions between Feb. 10, 2014, and May 10, 2016 in the Texas counties of Brooks, Jim Hogg, Webb and Starr. On four of the seven occasions, the smugglers loaded vehicles crammed with illegal aliens which subsequently either crashed or resulted in a vehicle bail-out to avoid law enforcement.
This investigation further revealed alien stash houses that Soto-Lopez and Soto ran in Hidalgo County were discovered on at least three occasions from Aug. 9, 2016, through Sept. 1, 2016, resulting in the apprehension of 45 illegal aliens.
At the time of Soto-Lopez and Soto's arrest, authorities conducted a search of their Brownsville residence where they found multiple vehicles and vehicle titles matching vehicles the organization used. The vehicle titles were registered to names and/or addresses not belonging to Soto-Lopez or Soto.
This investigation also revealed Soto had previously been encountered on Jan. 10, 2016, with a ledger consistent with documenting the transport of about 113 additional illegal aliens from Oct. 27, 2015, through Jan. 7, 2016. The ledger in Soto's possession also contained information on rental properties, travel directions and international Western Union or MoneyGram transactions consistent with alien smuggling. Based on information contained within the ledger, the organization appeared to be charging $800 to $2600 to transport and/or harbor each alien.
Five other individuals involved in this smuggling organization, all from Mexico, were sentenced to varying terms up to 23 months imprisonment. They are also expected to face deportation proceedings after they complete their prison sentences.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto Lopez Jr., Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting this case.