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Bond Denied for Accused Smuggling Leader

July 2, 2003

HOUSTON (AP) _ A federal judge Tuesday denied bond for a woman accused of leading a smuggling operation responsible for the deaths of 19 illegal immigrants, rejecting defense arguments that she never intended for them to die.

Karla Patricia Chavez ``is in fact a flight risk because of her continuous trafficking in human life, that’s what it is,″ U.S. Magistrate Calvin Botley said.

Prosecutors say Chavez, 25, led the operation that more than 70 illegal immigrants trapped in a sweltering trailer at a truck stop in Victoria, 100 miles southwest of Houston, on May 14. Nineteen people, including a 5-year-old Mexican boy, died of dehydration, hyperthermia and suffocation.

Chavez, who pleaded innocent after being denied bond, was deported to the United States after she was arrested June 13 in Guatemala, as she tried to enter her native Honduras.

Chavez and most of the other 14 people indicted in the case could face the death penalty for transporting undocumented immigrants in a potentially fatal manner. Nine of the suspects are in custody.

Attorney John LaGrappe argued that Chavez wasn’t the one who locked the immigrants in the trailer. Instead, he said Chavez tried to provide the immigrants with basic necessities, like food, shelter and transportation.

``Isn’t Ms. Chavez a humane person trying to help people?″ LaGrappe asked immigration agent Gus Meza during the hearing.

``I wouldn’t consider (her) that,″ Meza responded. The supervisory agent with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Chavez was willing to help people only for a fee.

Meza said at least four of the immigrants found in or near the trailer identified Chavez as the leader of the smuggling operation.

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