10 people face criminal charges over human trafficking incident that killed several people, following HSI investigation

DEL RIO, Texas – On November 4, special agents from the Del Rio office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) in Del Rio arrested a woman from Austin, Texas, the tenth and final defendant indicted in an indictment of 11 counts involving human trafficking resulting in death, according to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Thursday, November 4, 2021.

HSI in coordination with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and US Border Patrol (BP) are investigating this matter.

Veronica Torres-Mendez, 34, was arrested at a residence in Austin without incident on Wednesday.

According to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the following have also been charged with conspiracy to transport undocumented non-nationals: Sebastian Tovar, 25, of Toledo, Ohio; Nicolas Mondragon-Gonzalez, alias “Chayo” and “Flaco”, 33, from Austin; Veronica Torres-Mendez, 34, from Austin; Jennifer Oralia Davis, aka “Paypa”, 40, of San Antonio; Ruben Junior Rodriguez-Jaimes, 19, of Bastrop, Texas; Lauren Michelle Malmquist, aka “Mama” and “Lala”, 32, of Round Rock, Texas; Eduardo Rivera Benitez, alias “Lalo” and “Casper”, 23, from Bastrop; Marco Antonio Hernandez, aka “Temo”, 19, from Paige, Texas; and Jose Eli Rodriguez, 21, of Austin.

According to court documents, on March 15, Tovar was driving a Dodge Ram near Del Rio when a DPS soldier attempted to stop the vehicle. Tovar attempted to evade law enforcement and eventually crashed into the vehicle in oncoming traffic. Eight people, who were in the truck, died from injuries sustained in the accident and one person was seriously injured. All nine were non-citizens. In addition, two US citizens were seriously injured in the head-on collision when Tovar struck their vehicle.

After the crash, Border Patrol encountered a Ford F-150 stopped in traffic near the crash site. The border patrol ordered the driver of the truck to turn around and subsequently all the occupants fled the vehicle and fled into the nearby brush. The border patrol was able to locate 12 non-citizens who fled the truck. After interviewing two of the non-citizens, Border Patrol determined that the occupants of the Dodge and Ford were part of a human smuggling operation that was illegally transporting 20 non-citizens to the United States.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Tovar, Mondragon, Torres, Davis, Rodriguez-Jaimes, Malmquist and Benitez are also charged with one count of transporting non-nationals resulting in death. Tovar is also charged with one count of conspiracy to transport non-citizens causing grievous bodily harm and illegal transportation of non-citizens resulting in grievous bodily harm. Mondragon, Davis and Rodriguez-Jaimes are also charged with two counts of transporting non-nationals. Torres is further charged with four counts of transporting non-citizens. Hernandez, Jose Rodriguez and Luna are also charged with one count of transporting non-citizens.

All defendants face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for conspiring to transport non-citizens. Tovar, Mondragon, Torres, Davis, Rodriguez-Jaimes, Malmquist and Benitez face a maximum sentence of life in prison for transporting non-nationals resulting in a death charge. Tovar faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for conspiracy to transport and for transporting non-nationals resulting in grievous bodily harm charges. Mondragon, Torres, Davis, Rodriguez-Jaimes, Hernandez, Jose Rodriguez and Luna face up to 10 years in prison for each transport count charged.

If convictions are passed, a federal district court judge will determine the sentence after considering U.S. sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Banister of the Western District of Texas is continuing the case.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of DHS and a vital US asset in the fight against transnational crime and threats. Protecting the public from victimization crimes is one of HSI’s top priorities, and HSI’s Child Exploitation Investigations Program is a central part of this set of missions. HSI is recognized as a world leader in this investigative discipline and is committed to using its broad authority, international footprint, and strong government and non-government partnerships to identify and rescue child victims, identify and apprehend offenders, prevent abuses. transnational child sexual abuse and help make the internet a safer place for children.

To report a crime, call 866-347-2423 (TTY for the hearing impaired: 802-872-6196).

An indictment is only an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in court.

Courtesy: US Immigration and Customs Enforcement

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