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March 13, 2023Laredo, TX, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

HSI Laredo investigation leads to Nicaraguan citizen's guilty plea in deadly smuggling conspiracy

LAREDO, Texas — Arling Antonio Gutierrez-Garcia, 49, a Nicaraguan citizen unlawfully present in the United States pleaded guilty March 10 to conspiracy to transport noncitizens. The plea followed a joint investigation between Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S Border Patrol, the Webb County Sheriff’s Office, the Dimmit County Sheriff’s Office, the Webb County District Attorney’s Office, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Highway Patrol.

U.S. District Judge Diana Saldaña accepted Gutierrez-Garcia’s plea and will sentence him at a later date. At that hearing, he faces up to life in federal prison and a possible $250,000 fine.

“The tragic loss of life in this case is an example of the very real risks people face when they put their lives in the hands of smugglers," said HSI Laredo Deputy Special Agent in Charge Alejandro M. Amaro. "Those responsible for illegally moving people through our country place personal profit ahead of public safety. Driven by greed, these criminals have little regard for the health and well-being of the individuals they smuggle, which can be a deadly combination.”

According to court documents, on June 6, 2022, Gutierrez-Garcia drove a semitractor-trailer containing 63 citizens from Mexico and Guatemala. The metal trailer was covered with a vinyl tarp that eliminated air circulation and increased temperatures, which led to the noncitizens’ distress. Gutierrez-Garcia noticed the noncitizens jumping from the trailer through a tear they had made in the tarp. He then stopped the semitractor-trailer on a private ranch road in western Webb County, where law enforcement officials saw him standing by the cab; they and medical personnel helped the individuals in the trailer and brush.

Officials found one noncitizen at the bottom of the trailer’s pit and pronounced the person dead at the scene.

Authorities apprehended Gutierrez-Garcia in the brush. He claimed he was being transported with the others. However, the investigation revealed he was the vehicle’s driver.

“Transporting dozens of human beings in a vinyl-covered, all-metal trailer in the South Texas summer heat demonstrates the callousness and indifference of smugglers to human life,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas Alamdar Hamdani. “The sweltering heat that built up in this vehicle which was designed not for people, but for hauling sand, rock and other materials, maximized the potential for injury and the eventual and tragic death of one of the victims. This defendant will now face substantial consequences for his inhumane crime.”

Gutierrez-Garcia remains in custody pending sentencing.

U.S. Attorney Homero Ramirez, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting the case.

HSI San Antonio continues to address the serious public safety threat posed by human smuggling organizations and their reckless disregard for the health and safety of the people they exploit. To report suspicious smuggling activity, call 866-348-2423.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

Updated: 07/05/2023