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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Head of alien smuggling organization sentenced to 12 ½ years in federal prison

The organization smuggled aliens from the Rio Grande Valley to Houston

MCALLEN, Texas – The head of an extensive alien smuggling organization operating in and around south and southeast Texas was sentenced to 12 ½ years in federal prison, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Falcon Dam, with the assistance of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Jose Aguirre-Nunez, 46, appeared before a federal judge in McAllen, Texas, to receive his 150-month prison sentence. On Thursday, another defendant in this case is also scheduled to be sentenced, 43-year-old Higinio Barrientos-Perez.

According to court documents, Aguirre-Nunez pleaded guilty March 22, 2007 to conspiracy to transport illegal aliens and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He received two respective 150-month sentences, which are to be served concurrently. Aguirre-Nunez, who is a U.S. permanent resident, is expected to face deportation after he completes his federal prison sentences.

Evidence proved that on June 30, 2005, CBP agents discovered 26 illegal aliens from Honduras and El Salvador at a house in Roma, Texas, after one of them escaped and contacted law enforcement authorities. Agents arrested Barrientos-Perez after the aliens identified him as the person in charge of the stash house.

During the subsequent investigation, agents learned that two days earlier CBP agents found two Honduran aliens in the brush near Falfurrias, Texas. These Hondurans told agents that their guide deserted them and a woman when the woman could no longer continue walking. That woman later died of dehydration, according to an autopsy report. The Hondurans stated they ran out of water while they walked in the brush looking for help. In order to survive, they resorted to drinking their own urine. The HSI investigation led special agents to the husband of the deceased woman. He told special agents he contracted with Aguirre-Nunez to transport his wife from Honduras to Houston.

The investigation also revealed that Aguirre-Nunez's alien smuggling organization transported several hundred illegal aliens from Starr County to Harris County, Texas. Between 2001 and 2005, the organization received about $400,000 through Western Union and/or MoneyGram which represented payment by family members for smuggling illegal aliens.

Aguirre-Nunez headed the alien smuggling organization. He contacted the Mexican alien smugglers, and arranged for foot guides to cross the aliens into the United States and deliver them to stash houses in Starr County. Aguirre-Nunez hired a number of people to support transporting the aliens he smuggled, including: drivers to transport the aliens to Harris County, foot guides to walk the aliens around the checkpoint, and scouts to check for law enforcement while the aliens were being transported in vehicles.

Aguirre-Nunez and nine members of his organization were indicted for their roles in this alien smuggling organization. All have pleaded guilty and been sentenced.

Marciano Andres Avellaneda, 29, was a foot guide who walked aliens around the Border Patrol checkpoint. Miguel Angel Alarcon-Candelario was the foot guide who deserted the Honduran woman in the brush who later died. Both are illegal aliens from Mexico who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport illegal aliens; they were sentenced to 54 and 105 months in prison, respectively.

Omar Wilfredo Guerrero-Sosa, 33, and Rosalba Garcia-Perez, 38, also illegal aliens from Mexico, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens and were sentenced to respective 44- and 80-month prison terms. Guerrero-Sosa was a guide who crossed the aliens into the United States and took them to the Roma stash house. Garcia-Perez was a scout for law enforcement; he also took over Aguirre-Nunez's responsibilities when he was not in Starr County.

Lizzette Barrera-Moreno, a U.S. citizen from Harris County, and Myra Yesenia Villarreal, 31, Guadalupe Perez, 67, Soraya Barrera-Morales, 49, all of Starr County, Texas, all also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens. Perez drove vehicles north of the Border Patrol checkpoint and left vehicles by the side of the road for the aliens to drive to Harris County; she was sentenced to 78 months in prison. Villarreal was a scout for law enforcement, and Barrera-Morales took food to the aliens who were held at the stash house in Roma. Both Villarreal and Barrera-Morales also picked up money sent by families of the illegal aliens through Western Union. They will serve 40 and 37 months in prison, respectively. Barrera-Moreno, who leased the stash house in Roma, was sentenced to three years' probation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Anibal J. Alaniz, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted the case.