The man accused of orchestrating the smuggling journey that cost 53 migrants their lives was already under “active investigation” by ICE agents in Texas, according to court documents.
Christian Martinez was tied to the smuggling by text messages found on the phone of Homero Zamorano Jr., who was found hiding at the spot where the truck and its dead bodies were abandoned, and whom authorities have identified as the driver.
After realizing Mr. Martinez was already on their radar, ICE Homeland Security Investigations agents in Texas worked with police in his hometown of Palestine, Texas, to identify a confidential informant who knows him.
The informant reported that Mr. Martinez had admitted to being involved with the truck, knew the driver’s name, and said that the air conditioning unit in the trailer had stopped working, killing the migrants. Mr. Zamorano was unaware the unit had broken, according to HSI agents’ account of the informant’s conversation.
Mr. Martinez has been charged with conspiracy to smuggle aliens, and Mr. Zamorano has been charged with smuggling aliens. Both carry a potential sentence of life in prison or the death penalty.
The last public death toll was 53 migrants, including 48 who were dead at the scene in San Antonio on Monday.
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Mr. Zamorano was identified after agents found him at the scene, then matched his hat and clothing to footage of the driver from the truck as it crossed through a Border Patrol checkpoint earlier in the day.
The route from Laredo to San Antonio is among the most active smuggling paths in the country. Smugglers along the route are particularly prone to gathering large groups of migrants from stash houses in Laredo, then sending them by truck through the checkpoint along Interstate 35 north of Laredo.
The Washington Times’ database of smuggling cases shows Mexican migrants typically pay $7,000 or $8,000 to be smuggled into the U.S. and through the checkpoint. Those from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador pay somewhat more, with $12,000 a typical rate.
The rates are reported by Border Patrol and HSI agents who interview the migrants as witnesses in smuggling cases. One Ecuadoran migrant nabbed at the checkpoint told investigators he was paying $20,000 for his trip.