Katy resident pleads guilty in smuggling case
A Katy man hauling a couch and dresser in his truck told authorities in December he had bought them at a garage sale on the outskirts of Corpus Christi. But when U.S. Border Patrol agents checked, they found six people concealed inside the furniture.
Yabar Ayan Portes-Arevalo, 23, pleaded guilty this week for his role in a human smuggling case. He could receive a sentence of five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. In addition, federal prosecutors from the Southern District of Texas said Portes-Arevalo could lose his status as a legal permanent resident.
On Dec. 20, 2018, Portes-Arevalo pulled up to a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint near Sarita, about 60 miles southwest of Corpus Christi. The agents noticed a couch and a dresser wrapped in plastic and tied down to the bed of his Ford F-150 pickup. One of the agents asked if he was moving.
“He stated ‘no’ he bought the stuff down here at a garage sale. The agent asked how far he was traveling to. He said he was going to Houston, Texas,” according to federal court documents. “The agent stated that it was a long way to go for a garage sale and that they have better garage sales in Houston.”
Portes-Arevalo laughed and said he sometimes visits the area to “pick stuff up.”
Smugglers will sometimes use furniture in pickup trucks to conceal their human cargo from immigration authorities, Border Patrol agents said. They said Portes-Arevalo agreed to allow them to examine his pickup truck.
Agents with a truck mounted X-ray system made a pass around the Ford F-150 Portes-Arevalo was driving and called for backup after noticing “anomalies” in the X-ray image, according to court documents.
Federal prosecutors said they found three people hidden deep inside the sofa and three more nailed inside the dresser. The furniture was secured by orange tie-down straps. They people were pulled free and told officials they were from Guatemala and had no documents to show they were legally in the country. They were placed under arrest and taken to the U.S. Border Patrol station in Kingsville for processing, officials said.
Portes-Arevalo, who lives in Katy, agreed to talk to the investigators. He was to have been paid $1,000 for his role in the smuggling operation. He said he had done it once before but claimed he didn’t he was illegally transporting people. But, according to court documents he admitted being suspicious due to the amount of money he was being paid. Furniture was already in the truck bed when he drove to McAllen from the Houston area. He was told to wait inside a house there while the furniture in back of his truck was exchanged for the sofa and dresser later discovered by the Border Patrol agents, according to court documents.
If stopped, he was told to say he purchased the furniture and not answer any other questions, officials said.
Portes-Arevalo said Border Patrol agents asked only about his citizenship during the other incident where he admitted illegally transporting people.
He was “let go so he did not think much of it at the time,” according to federal court documents.
Sentencing for Portes-Arevalo has been set for May 20, 2019. He was permitted to remain free on bond until the hearing, officials said.