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San Antonio News

Mexican National Pleads Guilty in Human Smuggling Case Resulting in Tragic Deaths of 47 Adults and 6 Children

In a federal court in San Antonio, a Mexican national, Riley Covarrubias-Ponce, pleaded guilty to four counts related to his involvement in the smuggling of 66 migrants in June 2022. The failed attempt resulted in the tragic deaths of 47 adults and six children.

Covarrubias-Ponce, 31, was a member of the human smuggling organization responsible for the illegal transportation of adults and children from Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico into the U.S. Leading up to June 27, 2022, he coordinated with other organization members to smuggle migrants to Laredo for further transport to San Antonio. He also traveled from Houston to accompany the loaded tractor-trailer as it transported the migrants north on Interstate Highway 35. The journey concluded at the unloading location on Quintana Road in San Antonio, where it was discovered that many of the smuggled migrants had tragically lost their lives.

Covarrubias-Ponce pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death, one count of conspiracy to transport aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy, one count of transportation of illegal aliens resulting in death, and one count of transportation of illegal aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy. He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. The sentencing will be determined by a federal district court judge after considering U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Christian Martinez, another defendant in the case, pleaded guilty to the same charges in September 2023. Several co-defendants, including the driver of the tractor-trailer, Homero Zamorano Jr., and others, still have pending cases. Juan Francisco D’Luna Bilbao pleaded guilty to similar charges along with a firearms charge in June 2023.

The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Jaime Esparza of the Western District of Texas and Special Agent in Charge Craig Larrabee for the HSI San Antonio Division. The case is being investigated by HSI with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The investigation has received substantial support from various law enforcement agencies, including Customs and Border Protection, Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations, the San Antonio Police Department, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, the San Antonio Fire Department, the Marshall Police Department, and the Palestine Police Department.

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