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Human smuggling investigation leads to 8 arrests. Transported migrants in ‘deplorable conditions’ including suitcases and water tanks

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Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Justice reported that a joint-effort investigation with Joint Task Force Alpha led to the arrest of eight alleged human smugglers affiliated with a prolific trafficking operation. The Tuesday announcement stated that the network transported migrants in “deplorable conditions for profit.”

Erminia Serrano Piedra, also called “Boss Lady,” was believed to be the leader of the smuggling operation. The 31-year-old woman was indicted on trafficking charges, reported the DOJ. Authorities also arrested Kevin Daniel Nuber, 41; Laura Nuber, 40; Lloyd Bexley, 51; Jeremy Dickens, 45; Katie Ann Garcia, 39; Oliveria Piedra-Campuzana, 53; and Pedro Hairo Abrigo, 33. The arrests were made in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

The individuals are accused of illegally trafficking migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border and within the United States. According to the indictment, the trafficked individuals were believed to be citizens of Mexico, Columbia, and Guatemala.

According to the DOJ, the human trafficking operation hired drivers to transport migrants over the border and bring them further into the United States. Drivers were reportedly paid $2,500 for every individual they transported. Along the way to their destination, the smugglers placed the migrants in “stash houses” in Laredo and Austin, Texas.

“This human smuggling organization operated on an enormous scale, placing a high value on financial profit, while putting migrants’ lives at great risk,” said assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “JTFA will continue to use all means necessary to pursue and dismantle criminal smuggling networks and protect the vulnerable populations they exploit.”

To conceal the migrants, the human traffickers hid the individuals in suitcases, water tanks, and wooden boxes stored in truck beds and trailers. Containers used to hide the migrants offered limited ventilation and no temperature control. The indictment accused the smugglers of using dangerous means to transport the individuals.

“Human smugglers are criminals who do not care about human life,” said Deputy Commissioner Troy Miller of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “They lie to make money, convincing vulnerable migrants to hand over what is often their life savings in exchange for empty promises to get to the United States. Smugglers regularly abandon migrants in the desert or mountains with no food or water, leaving them for dead. CBP strives to be flexible, adaptable, and to think outside the box when it comes to disrupting these criminal organizations and protecting migrants from harm.”

Authorities seized three properties and money judgments amounting to $2,299,152.40.

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