(STL.News) – Three men have been ordered to federal prison following their convictions for transporting and harboring illegal aliens in locked and boarded-up trailers in Houston, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick along with Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) – Houston.
Albino Vargas-Hernandez, 49, a Mexican citizen who resided in Houston, and Rene Camacho, 47, Houston, pleaded guilty Dec. 12, 2019, to conspiracy to transport and harbor illegal aliens. A third man – Mexican national Hiram Lamarca-Gonzalez, 22, who also resided in Houston – entered his guilty plea Dec. 4, 2019.
Today, U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett handed Camacho a 36-month sentence to be immediately followed by two years of supervised release. Vargas-Hernandez and Lamarca were previously sentenced to 42 and 36 months, respectively. At the hearings, the court heard evidence as to the extensive nature of the smuggling venture which included multiple drivers to smuggle aliens, money transmitters and smuggling ledgers documenting over $1.4 million in smuggling proceeds. While imposing the sentences, Judge Bennett noted this was a serious large-scale smuggling operation. Not U.S. citizens, Vargas and Lamarca are expected to face removal proceedings following their incarceration.
At Camacho’s sentencing, the court also received evidence about a residence in North Houston purchased using $130,000 in proceeds from the conspiracy. Judge Bennett ordered the residence forfeited to the United States. Previous forfeitures include $224,774.86 in cash and cashier’s checks.
“These three individuals operated a vast human smuggling network that preyed on the desperation of foreign nationals hoping to get into the United States,” said Dawson. “In just the last year, they are responsible for smuggling more than 1,000 people into the country. With today’s sentencing, we have sent a resounding message that HSI is committed to aggressively target human smugglers and smuggling organizations who seek to undermine our nation’s immigration laws and victimize people for profit.”.
The investigation revealed that from approximately July 9, 2018, through on or about Aug. 22, 2018, multiple suspected aliens had arrived and departed trailers in Houston, which were locked and had boards on the windows. On several occasions, Vargas left his residence, picked up illegal aliens from the stash house and delivered them to others.
Law enforcement obtained search warrants on the Vargas residence as well as the stash houses. During that time, authorities found Vargas and Camacho inside one of the trailers along with 12 undocumented aliens. The aliens identified Vargas and Camacho as leaders of the smuggling organization, in charge of documenting alien information in ledgers and collecting payments for the those smuggled into the country. They also recovered multiple firearms, “pollo” lists (alien smuggling ledgers keeping track of alien and payment information), money service wire receipts and approximately $224,000 in cash.
Authorities also arrested Lamarca for guarding the aliens at the stash house.
Vargas and Lamarca have been and will remain in custody. Camacho was permitted to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) Richard Bennett prosecuted the case. AUSA Stephanie Bauman handled the forfeiture matters.