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Two More Arrests in Texas Human Smuggling

May 22, 2003

McALLEN, Texas (AP) _ Two more men were arrested in connection with the deaths of 19 immigrants who were packed into a semitrailer, bringing to six the number of people detained in one of the deadliest human trafficking attempts in U.S. history.

Authorities say Abelardo Flores, 31, who appeared in federal court in Brownsville on Wednesday, arranged the migrants’ transport. Also arrested was 38-year-old Victor Jesus Rodriguez, son of a Brownsville couple who authorities say also was part of the smuggling operation.

Rodriguez was expected to appear in court Thursday.

His parents, Victor Rodriguez, 55, and Emma Rodriguez, 57, were still being sought for allegedly housing the immigrants before transporting and then loading them into the trailer. Authorities said they were hunting for at least one more suspect, a man only identified as ``Joe.″

Police also said two more of the victims had been identified, leaving the identities of four still unknown. The immigrants were from Mexico, Central America and the Dominican Republic. On Thursday, the bodies of 11 of the 19 were being flown to Mexico for burial.

The truck’s driver, Tyrone Williams, 32, of Schenectady, N.Y., was arrested May 14 in Houston, hours after 17 people were found dead in and around the trailer at a truck stop near Victoria, about 100 miles southeast of Houston. Two others people died after being hospitalized.

Fatima Holloway, 28, who turned herself in on Friday in Cleveland, Ohio, told authorities that she was being paid $1,000 to accompany Williams from Ohio to Texas and ensure the driver delivered $15,000 to an unidentified person.

Meanwhile, a magistrate found probable cause Wednesday for a case against Erica Cardenas, 23, on a charge of transporting illegal immigrants. Cardenas and her boyfriend Juan Cisneros, 22, were arrested May 15 in McAllen.

Cardenas, a U.S. citizen, was with Cisneros when authorities said Cisneros accepted money to deliver the child of one of the immigrants in the trailer, authorities said.

An amended affidavit introduced by prosecutors Wednesday described how a surviving migrant told officials a relative’s 3-year-old boy was being held ransom in Brownsville by the Rodriguezes, who had charged her $1,000 to get to Houston. She was to pay them more money to bring the 3-year-old with another group of migrants.

Cardenas and Cisneros were arrested by undercover officers delivering a $300 down payment for the child, authorities said.

Defense attorney Kyle Welch said Cardenas may have known her boyfriend was transporting an illegal immigrant but was otherwise innocent. ``There’s no evidence to show that she did anything,″ he said.

Cardenas was released on bond.

Williams had told authorities two men were to pay him $5,000 to transport the illegal immigrants from the Mexican border to Houston, police said. Prosecutors could seek the death penalty if they believe Williams ``deliberately caused the death″ of the illegal immigrants.

On Thursday, the bodies of 11 Mexicans among the victims were taken from a Houston funeral home to be flown to Mexico so they could be returned to their hometowns for burial. One of the white caskets contained the 5-year-old boy, whose body was being returned to his father.

Another Mexican victim will be buried Saturday in Houston, and another was being driven to Monterey, Mexico, said Greg Compean, owner of the Compean Funeral Home. He said it was unclear when the other six would be returned to their home countries.


Associated Press Writer Juan Lozano in Houston contributed to this story.

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