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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
07/10/2020

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Driver in failed human smuggling attempt that left 7 dead in Southeast Texas sentenced to federal prison

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – The driver in a failed human smuggling attempt that left six unlawfully present aliens and a second smuggler dead in Southeast Texas in June 2019 was sentenced Thursday to 10 years in federal prison.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Corpus Christi, Texas, conducted the investigation with assistance from HSI Houston, the U.S. Border Patrol, Corpus Christi Police Department, Houston Police Department, U.S. Marshals Service and Nueces County Sherriff’s Office.

Mexican citizen Ivan Dario Puga-Moreno, 31, was sentenced July 9 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to 10 years in federal prison for conspiracy to transport unlawfully present aliens into the United States causing death or serious bodily injury. Puga-Moreno pleaded guilty to the charges on Feb. 2. In handing down the sentence, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos upwardly departed from U.S. sentencing guidelines.

On June 5, 2019, authorities discovered a wrecked Chevrolet Suburban in a ditch in Robstown, Texas. Five unlawfully present aliens and another smuggler were found deceased at the scene with 10 more requiring hospitalization due to their significant injuries. A sixth alien later died at the hospital. Puga-Moreno had been attempting to smuggle a total of 18 unlawfully present aliens with brush guide Agustin Gutierrez-Gonzalez who was from his hometown in Mexico.

After the crash, Puga-Moreno fled the scene of the accident and failed to call 911 for assistance. He fled to Houston in an attempt to avoid arrest, but was subsequently apprehended by HSI Houston on June 6. Further investigation revealed he had fled the scene with the assistance of Gutierrez-Gonzalez, 33, Elena Ruiz, 35, of Corpus Christi, and Mayra Chaver, 32, of Honduras.

At the time of his plea, Puga-Moreno admitted he was driving the vehicle and was evading police.

Ruiz, Chaver and Gutierrez-Gonzalez also pleaded guilty, admitting they helped Puga-Moreno flee and evade arrest after the crash. They are set for sentencing at a later date.

Puga-Moreno is illegally present in the U.S. and is expected to face removal proceedings following his release from prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Carl Fugate is prosecuting the case.

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 07/10/2020