VICTORIA, Texas – The leader of a local human smuggling organization was sentenced on Tuesday to 42 months in prison, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. The investigation was led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Corpus Christi Police Department Organized Crime Unit.
Lorena Martinez, 37, of Portland, Texas, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison by U.S. District Judge John D. Rainey. Martinez had previously pleaded guilty to two counts of bringing in and harboring aliens. The following individuals were also sentenced March 6: former Portland, Texas, firefighter Peter Jones, 30; Beatrice Rodriguez, 40, and April Stevens, 30, both of Corpus Christi, Texas; Pedro Vargas, 33, of Houston; and Jesus Alcala-Mendoza, 31, a Mexican national. Additionally, two real properties were forfeited that were derived from proceeds of the criminal conspiracy.
Rodriguez had previously pleaded guilty to one count of transporting and harboring aliens, and was sentenced to 33 months in prison. Alcala-Mendoza, Jones and Vargas also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport aliens. They received prison sentences of 42 months, 12 months and a day, and four months in prison, respectively. Stevens, who pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge, was ordered to serve two years of probation.
The investigation revealed a large-scale human smuggling organization based in Corpus Christi and Portland, Texas, that specialized in smuggling Brazilian nationals into the United States. According to court records, this organization operated with impunity for decades. Aliens were illegally transported in the back of enclosed tractor trailers to Robstown, Texas, where they were unloaded and disseminated throughout the United States. Special agents also uncovered about $500,000 in Western Union transactions between Martinez and other co-conspirators in relation to their illegal activities.
Stevens, Jones and Vargas were allowed to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility to be determined in the near future. Alcala-Mendoza and Martinez were ordered to remain in custody pending transfer to a BOP facility.
Alejandro Hernandez, 53, of San Antonio, Texas, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport aliens. He will be sentenced May 14.
Additional investigative assistance was provided by the police and fire departments in Portland, Texas, and by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Patti Hubert Booth, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting the case.