LAREDO, Texas – A 52-year-old Laredo resident has been ordered to federal prison for smuggling aliens, some of whom had lost consciousness, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.
Juan Contreras pleaded guilty Feb. 3, 2020.
Today, U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo ordered Contreras to serve a 110-month sentence. At the hearing, the court heard additional information regarding the danger posed to the people trapped in the tractor-trailer Contreras drove as well as their attempts to escape. In handing down the sentence, Judge Marmolejo noted Contreras has been given multiple previous opportunities to not continue in criminal activity and that this was his third alien smuggling conviction.
Contreras had been on supervised release for a prior conviction of transporting an undocumented alien when he committed this crime. The court revoked the remainder of that term and ordered he serve and additional consecutive nine months. The total 119- month overall term of imprisonment will again be followed by three years of supervised release.
“The sentencing of Contreras sends a clear message that individuals who engage in criminal activity with disregard for human life will be located, arrested, convicted and sentenced for their actions said Deputy Special Agent in Charge Timothy Tubbs from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). “Criminals who illegally smuggle people into and throughout the United States place personal profit ahead of public safety. HSI will continue to utilize its broad authorities to dismantle human smuggling organizations.”
On June 19, 2019, authorities found Contreras with an inoperable tractor-trailer on the side of Interstate Highway 35 near Laredo. The trailer was sealed shut, but they saw a person stuck between the trailer doors attempting to escape.
They soon rescued a total of 35 undocumented aliens who were trapped inside the trailer.
The investigation revealed the aliens had been banging on the walls while the vehicle was on the side of the highway. They also tried to reach through holes they made with a crowbar. Multiple individuals even lost conscious due to lack of oxygen and high temperatures.
Contreras has been and will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.
HSI conducted the investigation with the assistance of Border Patrol. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Scott Bowling prosecuted the case.