POSTED: Saturday, June 7, 2014 - 1:05pm
UPDATED: Saturday, June 7, 2014 - 1:09pm
MCALLEN, TX — Four defendants, who conspired to transport and harbor illegal aliens resulting in multiple deaths, have been sentenced to prison, announced United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson. Carmelo Diaz-Gopar, 26, and Jose Vega-Zapata, 37, both of Mexico, and Gloria Solis, 26, and Luis Julian Vargas, 21, both of Mission, all previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to transport and harbor illegal aliens within the U.S. resulting in the death of at least one person.
Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa handed Vega-Zapata a sentence of 132 months in federal prison, while Diaz-Gopar, Solis and Vargas receive respective sentences of 121, 42 and 100 months imprisonment. In handing down the sentences, the court noted that transporting and harboring aliens is a horrendous profession motivated by greed and that this offense tragically resulted in the death of nine individuals who had come to this country in search of work. Vargas and Solis must also serve two years of supervised release following completion of their prison terms. Both Diaz-Gopar and Vega-Zapata are illegal aliens and are expected to face deportation proceedings following release from prison.
According to court records, on April 10, 2012, Border Patrol (BP) agents attempted to conduct a traffic stop on a mini-van suspected of transporting undocumented aliens. The mini-van initially stopped on the side of the road in Palmview, at which time Diaz-Gopar exited from the van and ran away in an attempt to elude agents. He was apprehended shortly thereafter.
The driver of the van, a juvenile, then drove away at a high rate of speed and was involved in a single car accident just a short distance from the location of the original stop. A total of 16 undocumented aliens were being transported in the mini-van at the time of the accident. Nine were killed and the others were taken to local hospitals to seek medical treatment. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), along with several other law enforcement agencies responded to the scene of the accident.
After further investigation, it was determined the aliens had been picked up from a stash house in Mission, where they had been harbored and were subsequently being transported to another destination. Believing additional undocumented aliens were still being harbored at the same stash house; law enforcement subsequently conducted a consensual search of the stash house where they discovered 12 additional aliens in the residence, along with Solis, Alexander Barrios-Grajales, 28, and Alejandro Garcia-Nava, 20.
Vega-Zapata and Vargas were later apprehended for their involvement in the alien harboring. Some of the undocumented aliens provided statements to agents implicating the defendants and their involvement in the alien harboring, according to the court records.
At the hearing today, additional testimony was presented concerning the role each individual defendant played in the offense. Vega-Zapata was in charge of hiring individuals who would in turn secure stash houses and drivers for the organization’s use. Diaz-Gopar made arrangements with some of the aliens while still in Mexico and not only guided them through Mexico but was also to guide them north once they had been smuggled into the U.S. Vargas hired the juvenile to drive the transport vehicle which was subsequently involved in the accident, while Solis was the caretaker of the aliens at the stash house.
All four defendants have been in custody since their arrest where they will remain pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.
Barrios-Grajales and Garcia-Nava have also pleaded guilty to related charges and were also sentenced to federal prison.
The investigation was the result of an investigation led by Homeland Security Investigations with the assistance of Border Patrol and the Palmview Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Linda Requénez prosecuted the case.