Smuggling ring charged after 9 immigrants killed in rollover - Brownsville Herald: News

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Smuggling ring charged after 9 immigrants killed in rollover

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Posted: Friday, April 13, 2012 12:00 am

McALLEN — Immigration and Customs Enforcement has arrested six people involved in a human smuggling ring that resulted in nine deaths after a van rolled over in Palmview on Tuesday. 

The van filled with the immigrants killed and hospitalized following the Tuesday night rollover along Expressway 83 was headed north to drop people off in the brush, so they could walk around a Border Patrol checkpoint near Sarita, a criminal complaint filed Friday states. 

The six-page criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in McAllen details the events and background of the human smuggling ring. 

Border Patrol agents attempted to stop a gray minivan suspected of transporting illegal immigrants along Green Road in Palmview — a few blocks from their stash house — late Tuesday night. 

Carmelo Diaz Gopar, 25, bailed out of the minivan during a traffic stop before the van's driver, a 15-year-old boy later arrested by Palmview police, took off from the scene. 

A Border Patrol agent "gave chase" after Diaz and was arrested, the complaint states. 

The van sped off at a high rate of speed following the traffic stop before it rolled over along eastbound Expressway 83 frontage, resulting in the death of nine of the 16 illegal immigrants inside, the complaint states. 

The remaining seven went to local hospitals to treat their injuries. 

ICE agents learned the immigrants were going to a stash house at 702 Greenland Circle, Palmview, and that other immigrants were still there, the complaint states. 

Agents detained 12 illegal immigrants at the stash house. Beyond the dozen immigrants, agents detained Gloria Solis, 26; Alexander Barrios Grajales, 27; Alejandro Garcia Nava, 18, for allegedly harboring the immigrants at the house. 

Diaz told agents he was "simply" an immigrant heading to Atlanta, Ga., and that he had not paid anyone to smuggle him. He said he planned on paying his smuggling fees after arriving in Georgia, where he would work off the debt. 

Solis told agents the house was owned by her mother, who lives in New York City. She admitted she was hired to allow illegal immigrants to stay at the house before they were move elsewhere. 

Solis told agents she received $20 for each illegal immigrant at the house. On Tuesday night, there were 23 immigrants at the house. 

Barrios told agents he has known Solis for "some time" and asked her if he could stay at the house. He said he was an illegal immigrant heading to New York City. 

Garcia said he was an illegal immigrant planning to travel with Barrios to New York City. 

Agents have detained five illegal immigrants as material witnesses in the case. Four of them were in the Chevrolet Astro Van that rolled over and had been staying at the stash house prior to the accident. 

One of the material witnesses identified Diaz as the person who ran from the van when Border Patrol executed the traffic stop along Green Road.

The material witness, Maria Del Rosales Morales Bedolla, told agents that Diaz said to the illegal immigrants that he would guide them through the brush north of the Rio Grande Valley and to tell their relatives in Houston to prepare to pay their smuggling fees. For one of the immigrants, that was $4,000, the complaint states. 

Diaz traveled to Mexico and escorted at least one of the illegal immigrants as they made their way north to the border, the complaint states. 

Further investigation led agents to Jose Vega Zapata, 36; and Luis Julian Vargas, 20. 

Vega told agents he worked for the smuggling organization responsible for the deaths of the nine immigrants in Palmview on Tuesday, the complaint states. He told investigators he earned $1,000 per week for his duties, which included arranging food for the immigrants and scouting potential stash houses "among other things." 

Vargas told agents he had been asked to drive the van filled with immigrants to just south of the Sarita checkpoint along U.S. Highway 77, but declined, the complaint states. He said he'd been offered $40 per person. 

Instead, the driving duties went to a 15-year-old boy arrested by Palmview police on Thursday. He was not charged in federal court. 

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