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Man pleads guilty to coordinating smuggling of 86 illegal aliens

Judge's gavel. (Staff Sgt. Nicholas Rau/U.S. Air Force)

A Houston-based mechanic pleaded guilty to charges related to coordinating a human smuggling operation in which 86 undocumented people were discovered by authorities in a semi trailer near Raymondville.

Roger Edgardo Garcia-Brizuela, also referred to in court documents as “Mono”, allegedly coordinated the transfer of 86 people to Houston on May 22, 2018.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez, Jr. sentenced Garcia-Brizuela to a total of 75 months in federal custody on three separate counts as part of a plea agreement.

The man will serve 51 months for counts 1 and 7 of the case’s second superseding indictment. The remaining charges brought on the eight-count indictment were dismissed.

The document charged Garcia-Brizuela with conspiracy to transport certain illegal aliens and possession of a firearm – a 9 mm Bersa SA pistol – unlawful because the man is not documented.

Garcia-Brizuela was implicated as the manager of the operation based upon testimony given to Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents from co-defendant Jorge Alfredo Rodriguez, who was the driver of the truck in two separate smuggling incidents.

The first transport, which took place on May 1, 2018, involved 21 undocumented people who were successfully delivered from the Edinburg area to Houston, passing through a Border Patrol checkpoint in Sarita on the way north.

Garcia is a native of Honduras. He told the judge that he worked as a mechanic to support his family in the Houston area and apologized for breaking the law.

A summary of events included in a plea agreement accepted by Rodriguez, a Cuban national who was sentenced to three years in early December, stated that agents surveilling Rodriguez and co-conspirator Danay Rego-Plasencia spotted the two talking at a gas station on May 22.

Agents observed Rego-Plasencia following the tractor-trailer before it was stopped for failing to maintain a single lane of traffic. Rodriguez gave Texas Department of Public Safety troopers consent to search the trailer. Agents discovered 86 undocumented people hiding behind palettes of rotten avocados.

Reports from the time of Rodriguez’s arrest stated that some of the smuggled passengers busted through the roof of the trailer following the traffic stop.

Rego-Plasencia was located at a Stripes station and initially told officers she was driving to Houston. She recanted and said that Rodriguez was a friend when officers told her she had been observed following the trailer. She denied having knowledge of any illegal activity.

According to Rodriguez’s plea agreement, agents questioned a man from Honduras who told investigators he was charged $6,000, including a $3,000 down payment. A man from Guatemala also confirmed that he paid $6,000. Another man from Honduras said he was charged $8,000 for entry into the U.S.

The men were held at a location near Alamo prior to being placed in the tractor-trailer. One smuggled individual said that he was driven to a Walmart, where he was picked up by a Cuban male and taken to the trailer.

Garcia-Brizuela was accused of paying Rodriguez $2,000 per smuggled person during the first transport and $2,500 per smuggled person as payment for the second transport. Rodriguez stated that he was paid $45,000 for the first operation and expected to receive payment of $215,000 for the second.

On Monday, Garcia-Brizuela’s attorney argued several objections to a presentence investigation report that increased the severity of the charges accepted by his client.

The objections centered around the fact that Garcia-Brizuela’s conviction relied almost solely on Rodriguez’s testimony. According to the attorney, Rodriguez knew his client “had been deported to Honduras and decided to make him the fall guy” to obscure whoever was truly involved.

The attorney stated that Garcia-Brizuela lived in a small apartment in the Houston area and did not have the means to harbor such a large number of undocumented people.

He also argued that Rodriguez did not have the means to pay $45,000 and $215,000 for each successful delivery. Prosecutors never found bank accounts related to the incidents, according to the attorney.

Additionally, Garcia-Brizuela was never formally implicated in the May 22, 2018 incident outside of Rodriguez’s testimony, the attorney argued.

The government prosecutor cited phone calls made to Rego-Plascencia leading up to the smuggling event and said that there was “no evidence that [Garcia-Brizuela] withdrew from the conspiracy whatsoever.”

Garcia-Brizuela’s attorney asked the judge for variance based upon allegations that Rodriguez’s testimony was not credible. Judge Rodriguez denied the objections and the request for variance.


© 2020 The Brownsville Herald