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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
07/06/2016

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Northwest Texas man sentenced to life in prison for human smuggling that led to the torture of several victims

SAN ANTONIO — A 45-year-old man was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for his leadership role in a human smuggling organization that tortured victims while they waited for their ransom to get paid.

The sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney Richard Durbin, Western District of Texas. This investigation was led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with the assistance of the Dimmit County Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Border Patrol.

Eduardo Rocha, Sr., aka “Lalo,” was sentenced July 6 by U.S. District Judge Alia Moses to life in prison. In addition to the prison term, Judge Moses ordered Rocha to pay $10,481.20 in restitution to his victims and forfeit to the government his real property located in Carrizo Springs, Texas where the crimes were committed.

“As this sentence makes clear, those who exploit people in this brutal way will themselves face serious consequences,” said Special Agent in Charge Shane Folden, HSI San Antonio. “Alien smugglers view their clients as nothing more than a payday and they have no qualms about using threats and violence to collect their smuggling fees.”

On April 23, 2015, a federal jury convicted Rocha, Sr. of two counts of conspiracy to commit hostage taking; conspiracy to transport illegal aliens involving serious bodily injury; conspiracy to transport illegal aliens involving serious bodily injury; and three separate counts of harboring an illegal alien involving serious bodily injury.

According to court documents, evidence revealed that Rocha, Sr. operated his smuggling cell between Carrizo Springs and Piedras Negras, Mexico since at least 2013. Rocha, Sr. claimed to be affiliated with Los Zetas, a transnational drug trafficking organization operating out of Mexico. Members of Rocha, Sr.’s cell had used buildings located at Rocha, Sr.’s Carrizo Springs property to hold the illegal aliens before transporting them further into the United States. Witnesses testified that Rocha, Sr. held the aliens against their will in an effort to extort more money from family members in the United States.

Evidence also revealed that Rocha, Sr. ordered his accomplices to torture the illegal aliens being held captive in an effort to extort money. A female was raped multiple times, and family members were made to listen over the telephone as aliens were tortured with a hammer and threatened with decapitation and mutilation. A family member in Virginia called 911, which prompted a rescue operation by Dimmit County Sherriff’s Deputies, HSI and CBP on May 4, 2014.

On Wednesday, Judge Moses also sentenced two co-conspirators, Antancio Daniel Castro, 34, and Eduardo Rocha, Jr, 24, to 20 and 15 years in federal prison, respectively, for their roles in the criminal operation.

Three other codefendants, 40-year-old Christopher Jones, 34-year-old Tara Cournoyer, and 27–year old Esmeralda Cruz, were sentenced in 2015 to 66 months, 65 months and 71 months in federal prison, respectively, for their roles in the conspiracy to harbor undocumented aliens involving serious bodily injury.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew Watters and Patrick Burke, Western District of Texas, prosecuted this case.

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 07/07/2016