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Six people charged in deadly human smuggling attempt in Port Mansfield

Six people charged in deadly human smuggling attempt in Port Mansfield
1 year 4 months 2 weeks ago Friday, February 03 2023 Feb 3, 2023 February 03, 2023 10:46 AM February 03, 2023 in News - Local

Justice is now a step closer for the people who lost their lives off the coast of Port Mansfield in February 2022 when the boat several migrants were on capsized.

On Friday, federal authorities announced the arrest of six people in connection to the deadly human smuggling operation. The six arrested are also accused in another fatal human smuggling attempt in Duvall County.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: HSI releases new information on Port Mansfield boating incident

Almadar S. Hamdani, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of Texas, said the six are part of a transnational criminal organization headed by 39-year-old Juan Manuel Tena of Pharr, and five scouts.

The others arrested included: Julia Isairis Torres, 37, Israel Torres Jr., 33, Erasmo Garcia III, 21, and Alexis Rafael Adorno, all of Roma; and Jose Refugio Torres, 26, of Austin.

“Alexis Adorno acted as a scout escorting a vehicle loaded with migrants to South Padre Island, where the migrants then boarded a boat,” Hamdani said. “Afterward the migrants were supposed to be dropped off to another area, but the boat capsized."

The investigation into the human smuggling attempt to transport nine migrants pulled police from three counties, the U.S. Coast Guard, and federal law enforcement.

Port Mansfield's police department was the first to respond to the incident when they found the body of a migrant woman."My first officer responded, he was able to verify that yes we did have a body in the water, she had to be recovered,” Port Mansfield police Chief David Mayes said. “That victim was identified as Duna, and she was with child."

The search over a wide stretch of the coast lasted around 48 hours before it was called off. The U.S. Coast Guard initially reported nine people were onboard.

“Ultimately, we were able to confirm that four did perish,” Mayes said. “One was still missing, and then the smuggler who was operating the boat also perished, and two were injured."

“Those are the real victims who will never have a name or a time in the sun,” Mayes added.

The victims listed in Friday's indictment come from the Port Mansfield incident and a rollover crash in 2019 in Duval County that killed four people and injured one other.

“These two events occurred years apart, and in jurisdictions throughout South Texas,” Hamdani said. “It tells you about the scope of the human smuggling problem in this part of the country."

The six suspects are expected to appear in a detention hearing set for Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023.

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