McALLEN, Texas – A 53-year-old Los Ebanos resident has been ordered to federal prison for his role in a conspiracy to transport undocumented aliens, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick along with Acting Special Agent in Charge Craig Larrabee of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Benito Lopez III aka Chamuco, identified as a member of the Bandidos MC, pleaded guilty Feb. 3, 2020.
Today, U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez handed him an 82-month term of imprisonment to be immediately followed by three years of supervised release. The court found Lopez responsible for smuggling 25-99 undocumented aliens over the course of a four-month conspiracy. Additionally, he had created a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury based on the conditions in which he housed the undocumented aliens. Judge Alvarez enhanced the sentence, finding Lopez obstructed justice by providing detailed confidential information to co-conspirators regarding the investigation. He was also in possession of firearms and used minors during and in furtherance of the conspiracy.
At the hearings, which took place over the course of two days – Nov. 3, 2020, and today – the court heard how Lopez seriously jeopardized an ongoing investigation into an organization capable of smuggling hundreds of undocumented aliens through the Los Ebanos area. The court also heard testimony regarding the extensive surveillance system he utilized to conduct counter-surveillance of law enforcement in order to further the conspiracy.
In handing down the sentence, Judge Alvarez noted how Lopez endangered others, both during the conspiracy and while on bond. She stated she needed to impose a sentence to promote respect for the rule of law and deter his future criminal conduct.
“HSI is dedicated to working closely with all of our law enforcement partners to effectively identify, arrest and prosecute individuals involved in exploiting people,” said Larrabee. “Criminals who illegally smuggle people into and throughout the country place personal profit ahead of public safety. For this reason, HSI will continue to utilize its broad authorities to dismantle human smuggling organizations.”
On Oct. 1, 2019, authorities conducted surveillance on what they suspected to be an alien stash house located across the street from the Rio Grande river in Los Ebanos. There, they observed several suspected undocumented aliens fleeing from the location. Law enforcement quickly apprehended a total of seven of the individuals, all determined to be aliens illegally present in the United States.
At that time, they identified Lopez as the caretaker of the stash house where he held them in a 5-by-8 foot dilapidated bathroom with no electricity, anything to eat or drink or running water for approximately 12 hours before they managed to escape.
Law enforcement arrested Lopez at the stash house on Oct. 4 for his role in the conspiracy. He he was paid for each undocumented alien successfully crossed from Mexico and out of the Los Ebanos area.
Lopez has been in custody since he violated his conditions of release where he will remain pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.
HSI and Border Patrol conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Redavid prosecuted the case.
Source: U.S. Attorney’s OfficeSouthern District of Texas Press Release