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HSI investigates 53 fatalities from San Antonio smuggling incident

Charges filed against 4

SAN ANTONIO, July 1 (Ajit USA) – Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is investigating the human smuggling event involving a tractor trailer and 64 individuals this week. As the Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office announced, Homero Zamorano Jr., 45, was arrested June 29 on criminal charges related to his alleged involvement in noncitizen smuggling resulting in death, in violation of Title 8, United States Code, Section 1324.

On June 27, HSI responded to the scene of a human smuggling event involving a tractor trailer and 64 individuals suspected of entering the United States illegally. San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) officers advised HSI special agents as they arrived at the location of the tractor trailer in southwest San Antonio after receiving 911 calls from concerned citizens. At the scene, SAPD officers discovered multiple individuals inside the tractor trailer, on the ground, and in nearby brush – many of them deceased and some incapacitated. SAPD officers were led to the location of an individual, later identified as Zamorano, who was observed hiding in the brush after attempting to abscond. Zamorano was detained by SAPD officers.

“The horrific crime uncovered in San Antonio – the complete disregard for the lives and safety of these individuals and the devastating consequences – is a tragic reminder of why transnational criminal organizations must be stopped,” said Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Tae D. Johnson. “Homeland Security Investigations works tirelessly every day to identify, dismantle, and disrupt these criminal networks that treat human life like a commodity with no regard for the preservation of life. We will continue to work alongside our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners throughout the remainder of this investigation.”

Laredo Sector Border Patrol provided HSI agents surveillance footage of the tractor trailer crossing through an immigration checkpoint. The driver could be seen wearing a black shirt with stripes and a hat. HSI agents confirmed Zamorano matched the individual from the surveillance footage and was wearing the same clothing. HSI confirmed that 48 individuals at the scene were deceased. Of those, 22 were Mexican nationals, seven Guatemalan nationals, two Honduran nationals, and 17 of unknown origin but suspected to be undocumented noncitizens.

HSI confirmed the undocumented status of the deceased individuals by utilizing a mobile fingerprint device. Sixteen of the 64 undocumented individuals were transported to local hospitals for medical evaluation. Five died at the hospital. Officials are working with foreign consulate offices for proper notifications to family members of the deceased.

Zamorano is charged by criminal complaint with one count of alien smuggling resulting in death. He is originally from Brownsville but resides in Palestine, Texas. If convicted, Zamorano faces up to life in prison or possibly the death penalty. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Also charged by criminal complaint is Christian Martinez, 28, who was arrested on June 28 in Palestine. He is charged with one count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death. According to court documents, a search warrant was executed on a cell phone belonging to Zamorano. Through investigation, it was discovered that communications occurred between Zamorano and Martinez concerning the smuggling event. If convicted, Martinez faces up to life in prison or could face the death penalty. Martinez had an initial appearance on June 29 in Tyler. He will be transported to San Antonio for further proceedings.

In addition to arrests of Zamorano and Martinez, Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez, 23, and Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao, 48, both citizens of Mexico, were arrested and had initial appearances on June 27. According to court documents, the registration for the tractor trailer used in the attempted alien smuggling event came back to a residence in San Antonio. SAPD officers set up surveillance on the residence and observed two males leaving in separate trucks. After traffic stops on both trucks, the drivers were identified as D’Luna-Mendez and D’Luna-Bilbao. D’Luna-Bilboa was in possession of a handgun that was found in the center console of the truck he was driving. A search warrant was executed at the residence where additional firearms were located. Both individuals were determined to be in the U.S. illegally and were charged by criminal complaint with one count of possession of a weapon by an alien illegally in the U.S. in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 922(g)(5). If convicted, both defendants face up to 10 years in prison.

U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff of the Western District of Texas, HSI Acting Special Agent in Charge Craig Larrabee, San Antonio Division, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) Special Agent in Charge Fred J. Milanowski, Houston Division, made the announcement.

HSI and ATF, with valuable assistance from SAPD and the Palestine Police Department, are investigating the case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amanda Brown, Matthew Lathrop and Sarah Spears are prosecuting the case.

Individuals with additional information about this investigation or other suspicious activity should contact HSI’s Tip Line at 1-866-347-2423.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 special agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States, and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

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