The Justice Department unsealed an indictment Tuesday against eight people who allegedly ran a human smuggling ring at the United States-Mexico border transporting migrants inside crates on flatbed trucks. Photo courtesy of the Department of Justice.
Sept. 14 (UPI) -- The Justice Department announced Tuesday its anti-trafficking task force has dismantled a human smuggling ring at the United States-Mexico border leading to the arrest of eight people.
The indictment, which was unsealed Tuesday, said Joint Task Force Alpha broke up an illegal operation that smuggled migrants into the U.S. for profit. The indictment says the network was led by Erminia Serrano Piedra, also known as "Boss Lady," who allegedly made millions of dollars illegally transporting migrants from Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia into the United States.
"The charges announced today are just the latest example of these efforts' success," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. "The Justice Department will continue to bring our full resources to bear to combat the human smuggling and trafficking groups that endanger our communities, abuse and exploit migrants, and threaten our national security."
Piedra's co-conspirators were identified as Kevin Daniel Nuber, Laura Nuber, Lloyd Bexley, Jeremy Dickens, Katie Ann Garcia, Oliveria Piedra-Campuzana and Pedro Hairo Abrigo, the department said.
According to the indictment, Piedra's organization transported paying migrants in suitcases, repurposed water tanks and wooden crates on flatbed trucks.
"They packed people in dangerous, tight spaces, with limited ventilation in high temperatures, risking people's lives and safety for money," said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. "The sole purpose of this conspiracy was personal profit. It has allegedly generated millions of dollars in illegal proceeds."
The human smuggling network allegedly used drivers to pick up migrants near the border and transport them into the United States. The indictment says the migrants were harbored at "stash houses" along the way in Laredo and Austin, Texas. Drivers were allegedly paid as much as $2,500 for each migrant they illegally transported, according to the Department of Justice.
"Sadly, this case is an example of what we see in our district, too many times, especially in our border communities," said U.S. Attorney Jennifer Lowery for the Southern District of Texas. "Our Laredo office works continuously with our valued partners to bring to justice those who allegedly put profits ahead of everything else. No amount of money should be a substitute for human life."
Since its creation in 2021, JTFA's work has resulted in criminal charges and more than 100 domestic and international arrests against organizers and facilitators of human smuggling activities, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
"At DHS, countering human smuggling is a moral imperative, a law enforcement priority and a necessity for our national security," said Deputy Secretary John Tien of the Department of Homeland Security. "It is a central plank of our efforts to address irregular migration across the western hemisphere, and to hold transnational criminal organizations accountable for perpetrating vile and horrific crimes."
The Justice Department will work to forfeit three properties in the Austin area, which were purchased with proceeds from the illegal smuggling ring and used to facilitate the organization's criminal activity.
The department is also seeking monetary judgments against Piedra and two of her co-conspirators for nearly $2.3 million.
"This human smuggling organization operated on an enormous scale, placing a high value on financial profit, while putting migrants' lives at great risk," Polite said. "JTFA will continue to use all means necessary to pursue and dismantle criminal smuggling networks and protect the vulnerable populations they exploit."