Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Lopez Facing Life For Alien-Smuggling Operation Resulting In Five Deaths

Armando García-Lopez

Photo: Brewster County Sheriff's Office

Alien smuggling ring leader who eluded feds for seven years convicted and is facing life in prison.

By H. Nelson Goodson
January 24, 2012

Pecos, Texas - A federal jury convicted Armando García-Lopez, 43, formerly of Tornillo, Texas in connection with a 2004 alien smuggling operation, which resulted in five deaths. Lopez was the ring leader of an operation that smuggled undocumented immigrants into the U.S. from Mexico.
Lopez had evaded prosecution for seven years, but was arrested on April 29, 2011 by federal authorities in Alpine, Texas. Lopez was convicted for one count of conspiring to transport aliens resulting in death; three counts of illegally transporting aliens resulting in death; three counts of aiding and abetting the illegal transportation of aliens; and six counts of aiding and abetting the harboring and concealing of an alien.
Lopez will be sentenced on April 16, by U.S. District Judge Robert Junell and is facing life in a federal prison without the possibility of parole.
The indictment states, that on April 5, 2004, a trailer rig driven by Melinda O'Brien, 43, of Floyada crashed head-on with another 18-wheeler rig. The fatal collision occured on Highway 285 about 18 miles south of Pecos, Texas.
Six illegal aliens were travelling inside O'Brien's semi-trailer sleeping cab and three died at the scene, including O'Brien. O'Brien worked for Lopez. Those killed in the crash were identified as, Marie Elena Martinez García, 18, Hermillo Mayen Luna, 44, and Mario Antonio Camacho (age unknown) from Michoacan, Mexico. Three other injured undocumented immigrants also travelling with O'Brien who survived the accident were identified as Jessica Guevara, 16, Marcello Castillo Reyes, 23, and Jose Canizal Padilla, 28. 
Another crash victim, Paul "Wes" Wilkins, 28, of Kermit also died after crashing his 1999 Ford truck into O'Brien's overturned rig.
Evidence presented to the jury established that Lopez recruited stash house operators and drivers to transport illegal aliens. Testimony during the trial also revealed that the six undocumented alien passengers in O'Brien's semi-trailer were part of Lopez's smuggling operation.
Lopez conviction resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents in Fort Stockton, Alpine and El Paso, Texas, with the assistance of the U.S. Marshals Service.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James J. Miller, Jr., Western District of Texas, successfully prosecuted the case, according to a news release issued by ICE on Monday.
Seven other members of the Lopez illegal alien smuggling operation were also indicted, convicted and sentenced.

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