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Trucker who smuggled 71 people in meat trailer sentenced to 15 months after HSI Laredo investigation

Human RightsTrucker who smuggled 71 people in meat trailer sentenced to 15 months after HSI Laredo investigation

LAREDO, Texas — A Texas truck driver was sentenced to prison for transporting noncitizens after an investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Laredo and the U.S. Border Patrol’s Laredo Sector.

U.S. District Judge Diana Saldana sentenced Denny Fuentes, 48, from Splendora, Texas, to 15 months in federal prison to be immediately followed by three years of supervised release.

According to court documents, on June 15, 2022, Fuentes drove a white semitruck pulling a white refrigerated utility trailer. He slowly approached the primary commercial lane at the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in Webb County and authorities ordered him to stop. During officials’ initial inspection, he acted nervous and his lips were trembling. Fuentes told authorities he was “hauling pig meat.” He provided his passport and a manifest for products requiring transport at no higher than 45 degrees. However, the trailer temperature was set at 56 degrees. Upon a secondary inspection, authorities discovered 71 noncitizens, five of whom were minors.

The temperature inside the enclosed metal trailer was almost 80 degrees Fahrenheit, while the outside temperature was approximately 100 F.

During Fuentes’ hearing, the court heard that the noncitizens were locked in the semitrailer. In handing down the 15-month sentence, Saldana noted that Fuentes put everyone who was in the trailer in danger of harm.

Fuentes pleaded guilty Sept. 15, 2022. He was permitted to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility no later than Sept. 8, 2023.

“HSI is dedicated to working closely with all of our law enforcement partners to effectively in identify, arrest and prosecute individuals involved in exploiting people,” said HSI San Antonio acting Special Agent in Charge Craig 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.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Homero Ramirez of the Southern District of Texas prosecuted the case.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of 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 more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 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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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity.

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