CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (CN) – A South Texas trucker faces up to 20 years in federal prison after pleading guilty Thursday to human smuggling that led to the death of an undocumented alien.
Juan Enrique Escobedo-Moreno, a 45-year-old legal resident, was arrested in October for smuggling a migrant discovered in a compartment behind his driver’s seat. But he said nothing about his other cargo: A man, later identified as Martin Gomez-Arellano, that authorities found dead in a small toolbox on the truck.
Escobedo-Moreno pulled his semi truck into a Border Patrol checkpoint in Falfurrias, Texas, about 120 miles north of the Mexico border, around midnight on Oct. 3, according to his arrest report.
He told agents he was taking a load of watermelons to Houston and denied that there was anyone else in his truck.
“At this time Escobedo-Moreno was directed to park in the secondary area in order to conduct a further inspection. While in secondary inspection area, BPA Oscar Garcia conducted a search inside the tractor and found subject Roberto Rico-Duran hidden inside a closet directly behind the driver’s seat,” the arrest report states.
According to court records, Escobedo-Moreno told the Border Patrol a man named Jose he met at a market in McAllen, Texas earlier that day had asked him to take Rico-Duran, a Mexican national, to Houston, and agreed to pay him $2,500 for a successful trip.
Three days after Escobedo-Moreno’s arrest, authorities found Gomez-Arellano’s body in a toolbox under the sleeper compartment in the truck. The toolbox was 30 inches long, 26 inches wide and 16 inches deep, according to court records and a press release about the guilty plea.
With police yet to find the body, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jason Libby set Escobedo-Moreno’s bond at $25,000, with a $500 cash deposit required to release him from custody, which prosecutors did not oppose.
But prosecutors filed an emergency motion to stay Escobedo-Moreno’s release after the grim discovery and Libby revoked the bond on Oct. 10, court records show.
Prosecutors said in a statement that the toolbox Gomez-Arellano died in had an exterior latch and could not be opened from the inside. Citing court testimony, prosecutors said Escobedo-Moreno instructed Gomez-Arellano to pull the toolbox lid down hard to make sure it would latch and stay closed.
Escobedo-Moreno could also be fined up to $250,000 at his April 9 sentencing.