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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Houston jury finds woman guilty of alien smuggling resulting in death

HOUSTON — A woman from Los Angeles, Calif., was convicted Thursday of conspiracy to transport and harbor aliens resulting in the death of a 38-year-old illegal alien from Mexico, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

The case was investigated by the following agencies: Oldham County Sheriff's Office, Texas Rangers, Texas Department of Public Safety, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Demi Mishel Muniz was convicted by a federal jury after a three-day trial before U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal.

During trial, testimony revealed that on Aug. 18, 2010, the Oldham County Sheriff's Office was notified there was a body on the side of Interstate Highway 40 outside of Vega, about 20 miles west of Amarillo, Texas. The identity of the deceased was discovered after receiving an inquiry from the alien's son.

The deceased was being smuggled from Mexico into the United States to Houston, and then on to Los Angeles, Calif. During the course of the journey, Muniz contacted the wife of the deceased and provided a bank account number for the deposit of $650 in smuggling fees. Subsequently, Muniz contacted the wife again and informed her he was ill. The wife told Muniz her husband was diabetic and required insulin and requested he be taken to a hospital. Muniz refused and stated she had other people in the van and had to keep moving. A few hours later, the wife was called and told not to deposit the money into the bank account because her husband had been “left behind.”

An autopsy on the body determined he had died of a combination of pneumonia and diabetes. Testimony also revealed that had the deceased received proper and timely medical care, he likely would have survived.

The bank accounts of Muniz were extensively reviewed and it was determined that about $84,000 in the account was derived from unknown sources. Agents determined many of the deposits were from various other states and that this was a characteristic consistent with alien smuggling operations.

A co-defendant testified Muniz and others were heavily involved in alien smuggling, and during the course of the trip Muniz refused to provide help to the deceased.

Although Muniz previously said she was not involved in the smuggling venture and was not in the van with the deceased, Muniz elected to testify in the trial and admitted to being in the van, but said she did not know the aliens were illegal. She further denied having talked to the widow and also denied being told the deceased was diabetic and required insulin. The jury disagreed and found her guilty.

Sentencing is scheduled for May 14, at which time she faces up to life in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Julie Searle and Douglas Davis, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted the case.