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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Mexican man sentenced to 10 years in prison for alien smuggling

Sentence increased after witnesses testified that he robbed them and raped a woman

BROWNSVILLE, Texas – A man from Matamoros, Mexico, was sentenced on Tuesday to 10 years in federal prison for his role in an alien smuggling/transportation conspiracy. The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigation (HSI).

Rogelio Serrano-Lara, 21, appeared before U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen on Nov. 15. Judge Hanen sentenced Serrano-Lara to 120 months in prison. While Judge Hanen was handing down the sentence he noted the nature, circumstances and seriousness of the offense, and the need to protect the public from future crimes.

According to court documents, on Sept. 26, as part of the sentencing hearing, the government presented six witnesses in support of an upward departure of the U.S. sentencing guidelines. Among the witnesses that testified was a 29-year-old woman from El Salvador who stated she was raped by Serrano-Lara. Additional testimony was presented by her daughter and law enforcement officials. Serrano-Lara faced a maximum of 37 months in prison based on the U.S. sentencing guidelines, but upon hearing from the government's witnesses previously and the defense on Oct. 31, the judge enhanced his sentencing to 120 months.

Serrano-Lara pleaded guilty on June 9 to transporting an alien within the United States.

On April 27, during Serrano-Lara's plea hearings, the government's evidence indicated that ICE HSI received information concerning a stash house used for harboring illegal aliens. Upon attempting a consensual search of a residence on Sybil Street in Brownsville, multiple subjects fled, but agents managed to arrest 13 illegal aliens.

Further investigation led to the indictment of Hector Josue Velasquez-Cruz, 29, of Honduras, for concealing or harboring a certain illegal alien for commercial advantage and private financial gain. According to court documents, Velasquez-Cruz admitted to being the caretaker of the residence for four months in exchange for passage to Houston. At the time of his arrest, 34 illegal aliens had arrived and departed from the stash house during the 17 days Velasquez-Cruz had served as caretaker of the Sybil residence. The investigation also revealed that Yered Esquivel-Medina, 23, of Michoacan, Mexico, had arrived at the residence on the date of the apprehensions. He served as the brush guide for the illegal aliens during their trip to Houston by guiding them around the U.S. Customs and Border Protection checkpoint.

Through interviews, the agents learned that the 29-year-old woman and her family had traveled by bus to Reynosa, Mexico, crossed the river on the following day, and were eventually transported to the Sybil residence by Serrano-Lara. Upon arrival at the Sybil residence, Serrano-Lara patted them down one by one and robbed them of their money. Later, when the woman's 21-year-old niece and 13-year-old daughter began to cry, Serrano-Lara threatened to kill them and told them he was with the Zetas.

Court records revealed, the El Salvadorian woman was in the kitchen on her second day at the Sybil residence when Serrano-Lara pulled her into the smaller bedroom and told her to surrender herself to him. When she refused, he threatened to rape her daughter instead. She explained how she felt she had no choice and Serrano-Lara proceeded to sexually assault her. During the investigation of Serrano-Lara, other illegal aliens reported that he had robbed them of their money as they arrived at the residence and were transported in the trunk of the vehicle.

Velasquez-Cruz pleaded guilty on June 9 to harboring an illegal alien and was sentenced last month to 15 months in prison. Esquivel-Medina pleaded guilty on July 27 to conspiracy to transport and harbor an alien within the United States. He is pending sentencing for Dec. 15. All three men have been in custody since their arrest.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elena Salinas, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.