Octavio Torres-Ortega, the last of 14 persons charged for their involvement in the ill-fated human smuggling operation that left 19 dead in Victoria, Texas, in May 2003, has been extradited to the United States from Mexico, United States Attorney Don DeGabrielle announced today.
Torres-Ortega, 42, a citizen and resident of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, arrived at George Bush Intercontinental Airport at approximately 4:00 p.m. in the custody of Deputy United States Marshals assigned to the Houston Division of the United States Marshals Service. Torres-Ortega will be held in custody until he makes an initial appearance before a United States Magistrate Judge expected to take place later this week.
Torres-Ortega is charged in 58 counts of a 60-count superseding indictment with operating a smuggling organization involved in transporting and harboring aliens smuggled into the United States and the collection of smuggling fees. The indictment’s charges include a charge that Torres-Ortega conspired with co-defendant Karla Patricia Chavez-Joya and others to harbor and transport his “load” of undocumented aliens along with the “loads” of other alien smugglers aboard a commercial-refrigerated tractor trailer. Twenty of the 58 eight counts each carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and each of the remaining 38 counts carries a maximum of 20 years imprisonment, with all of the 58 counts carrying a maximum fine of $250,000 each.
On May 14, 2003, a commercial-refrigerated trailer was found abandoned at a truck stop in Victoria, Texas, by deputies of the Victoria County Sheriff’s department. Seventeen male foreign nationals were discovered dead in and around the trailer. Two other male foreign nationals found in the trailer died shortly thereafter at Victoria hospitals. An investigation by agents of the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) determined that at least 74 foreign nationals from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic smuggled into the United States through Mexico were being transported within the trailer. A coroner’s medical examination ultimately determined the nineteen deaths were caused by asphyxiation, hyperthermia and/or dehydration. Included, among the dead, was a five-year-old child, his father and a 15-year-old juvenile.