(CN) — A Texas man has admitted in court that he attempted to smuggle two Mexican nationals in a flag-draped coffin through an immigration checkpoint under the guise that he was transporting the remains of a U.S. Navy sailor.
Zachary Taylor Blood, 33, entered his guilty plea in Corpus Christi federal court Tuesday on a single count of alien smuggling. He faces up to five years in prison and a possible $250,000 fine when he is sentenced May 11 by U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos.
Agents at the Falfurrias border patrol station, about 70 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, keyed in on Blood after the Galveston man drove a grey van modified to transport caskets into the primary inspection lane last October, federal prosecutors say.
When the agent asked what he was transporting, Blood replied, “Dead guy, Navy guy.” But the agent, a military veteran, grew suspicious when he observed a rusty, dented coffin in the back of the van, as well as an American flag in poor condition.
The flag was taped to the top of the coffin with clear packaging tape and zip tied on one corner, according to a criminal complaint affidavit.
A canine handler, also a military veteran, immediately noticed the same discrepancies as the previous agent, and referred Blood to secondary inspection where the two Mexican nationals were discovered inside the coffin. The two men admitted to paying a smuggler to get them to San Antonio after crossing the Rio Grande River into the country.
One of the men in a statement said he paid $2,000 of the $6,000 fee to cross the river and would have worked off the remaining debt once he reached San Antonio, about a two-and-a-half hour drive from the Falfurrias immigration check point. He told authorities that he and his cousin “were crammed inside of the coffin” by the driver of the pseudo hearse and had difficulty breathing because it was hot and the coffin “could only open slightly.”
Both men positively identified Blood as the driver of the hearse and the person who instructed them to get inside of the coffin.
Blood will remain in custody pending his sentencing in May in the Southern District of Texas.
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