Four Mexican citizens were arrested in connection with the deaths of 53 migrants found abandoned last year inside a tractor-trailer in the scorching heat in San Antonio, Texas, federal prosecutors said Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of the shocking discovery.
The Justice Department said the suspects knew the trailer’s air-conditioning unit was malfunctioning and would not blow any cool air to the migrants inside. They were identified as Riley Covarrubias-Ponce, 30; Felipe Orduna-Torres, 28; Luis Alberto Rivera-Leal, 37; and Armando Gonzales-Ortega, 53.
“One year ago today, an unthinkable crime perpetrated by human smugglers at our southern border caused the death of 53 human beings,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco. “But today’s arrests demonstrate that those who seek to profit from desperation will be brought to justice.”
All four are charged with conspiracy to transport immigrants resulting in death, serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy. Each man faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.
The arrests were made in Houston, San Antonio and Marshall, Texas, authorities said.
Prosecutors said the men exchanged the names of the migrants who would be smuggled in a truck for the nearly three-hour drive from Laredo, Texas to San Antonio.
Orduna-Torres provided the address where they would be picked up, and Gonzalez-Ortega met them there, prosecutors said. The four then coordinated the trip and exchanged messages about the truck’s progress on the drive to San Antonio.
The dead were discovered on June 27, 2022. They included migrants smuggled into the United States from Mexico – 27 people from Mexico, 14 from Honduras, seven from Guatemala and two from El Salvador. Among the dead included eight children.
The truck was found in San Antonio on a desolate road.
The driver, Homero Zamorano Jr. of Elkhart, Texas, was previously charged in July 2022 along with Christian Martinez, a resident of Palestine, Texas. Zamorano was arrested when authorities arrived at the scene and found him hiding in the brush near the truck.
Authorities found 48 migrants deceased at the scene. The other 16 were transported to local hospitals, where five died.