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April 25, 2017Laredo, TX, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

South Texas judge sentences Michigan man to nearly 6 years in federal prison for transporting illegal aliens

LAREDO, Texas — A man from Michigan was sentenced to nearly six years in federal prison for attempting to smuggle 10 illegal aliens in the back of a Penske rental truck.

This sentencing was announced by Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez, Southern District of Texas. This investigation was led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigation (HSI), with the assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Border Patrol (BP).   

George Lester Stewart, 61, from Wheeler, Michigan, was sentenced April 25 by U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo to 71-months in federal prison for attempting to smuggle 10 illegal aliens in the back of a Penske rental truck. His sentence is to be immediately followed by three years of supervised release. In handing down the sentence, Judge Marmolejo noted Stewart's extensive criminal history and the dangerous manner in which he was transporting the illegal aliens.

According to court documents, on April 5, 2016, Stewart pulled up to the primary inspection lane at the checkpoint near Freer in a yellow Penske rental truck. A U.S. Border Patrol agent noticed Stewart seemed nervous when he claimed the truck was empty. He also stated that he had picked the truck up in Laredo and was driving it for Penske to drop off in Corpus Christi.

Authorities conducted an X-ray examination of the truck which revealed 10 individuals concealed in the cargo area of the padlocked truck. The aliens had been locked there for several hours with outside temperatures reaching nearly 90 degrees. Stewart did not have a key to unlock the padlock.

The jury heard that Stewart first admitted he had been paid to drive a moving truck from McAllen to Houston.  The jury also heard that Stewart provided a false address when renting the truck, and that he was told to provide false information to Border Patrol. During trial, however, Stewart claimed he had accepted a job offer to transport furniture from McAllen to Houston. He denied knowledge of the aliens in the back of the truck as well as having any involvement in transporting the illegal aliens.

The jury was not convinced and found him guilty as charged on one count of conspiracy to transport aliens for financial gain and two counts of transporting illegal aliens.

Stewart will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

Assistant U.S. Attorney, Chris Howard, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.