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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Leaders of a south Texas alien smuggling organization sentenced to prison

7 associates also sentenced for their roles in the alien smuggling scheme

MCALLEN, Texas – Two leaders of a Houston-based alien smuggling organization and seven of their associates were sentenced Tuesday to federal prison for their roles in an alien smuggling operation that resulted in the death of an illegal alien, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. The investigation was led by U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Rafael Valles, aka El Viejo or Rafa, 34, is a U.S. citizen living in the McAllen, Texas, area. Refugio Reyna-Huerta, aka Cuco, 32, is a Mexican citizen who resided in Houston. Both were leaders of an alien smuggling organization. They were sentenced March 27 by Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa to 125 months and 96 months in federal prison, respectively.

According to court documents, Valles and Reyna-Huerta pleaded guilty in 2011 to conspiracy to transport illegal aliens in the United States. At that time, both admitted to leading an organization responsible for the death of an illegal alien on Feb. 16, 2010. On that date, HSI special agents responded to a motor vehicle accident that occurred near Falfurrias, Texas.

At the accident scene, special agents identified one deceased individual, a Mexican citizen, and a badly damaged Toyota Tundra pickup truck. Further investigation revealed the Tundra carried about 17 illegal aliens from the McAllen area to Houston, where the illegal aliens would be further transported to other locations throughout the United States. However, as the aliens were transported north, the driver of the Tundra thought he was being followed by law enforcement. He then made a sudden turn causing the Tundra to flip over.

Further investigation revealed that Valles and Reyna-Huerta organized the transportation. Among other things, they rented the load vehicle, paid drivers and scouts, and rented the stash house in McAllen which housed the 17 illegal aliens – and hundreds of others who were transported by the organization over time.

Seven other individuals were sentenced March 27 for their respective roles in the organization. Mario Salinas, 24, of Mexico, the driver of the Tundra, was sentenced to 75 months in prison. Gabriel Dominguez-Benitez, 27, of Houston, who conducted counter-surveillance, was sentenced to 41 months in prison. Jovany Calderon-Vargas, 24, of Mexico, who worked at the stash house, was sentenced to 37 months in prison.

Specifically, Calderon-Vargas kept track of payments made by family members of the illegal aliens so that the organization could determine who would be transported north. Nestor Flores-Perez, 35, of Mexico, and Alejandro Amaya-Arevalo, 28, of Mexico, were sentenced to 30 and 57 months in prison, respectively, for transporting aliens to the stash house. Angelica Verastegui-Espinoza, 25, of Mexico, who rented the stash house at the direction of Reyna-Huerta, was sentenced to 23 months in prison. Juliana Vanessa Cruz, 26, of McAllen, was sentenced to 46 months in prison for transporting illegal aliens to the stash house from the Rio Grande River.

All nine defendants were additionally ordered to serve various terms of supervised release following their prison terms.

Assistant U. S. Attorney Gregory S. Saikin, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted the case.