Guatemalan National pleads guilty to human smuggling charges

File photo: Border Patrol

LAREDO, TX (KGNS) - A Guatemalan national now faces up to life in prison after pleading guilty to transporting aliens which resulting in one death, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.

Luis Morales-Melendez, age 32, who illegally entered the United States himself, admitted to the charges Monday.

On August 22nd, authorities encountered 12 individuals near Zebra Creek in Laredo. The investigation determined they were all undocumented aliens who had illegally entered the country by crossing the Rio Grande.

Several identified Morales-Melendez as the guide who led them into the United States.

Another man had been a part of the group, but had died along the way. The investigation revealed the victim had been struggling in the water, but Morales-Melendez did not offer aid or use a rope to help him. Morales-Melendez denied hearing anyone call for help. While some lifejackets were available, there were not enough for everyone. The victim’s body was recovered on the Mexican side of the river the following day.

Morales-Melendez admitted to illegally entering the United States with the group and acting as the foot guide on the American side of the river. As part of his plea, Morales-Mendez acknowledged receiving a discount on his smuggling fee in exchange for acting as the foot guide once the group crossed into the United States.

Morales-Melendez has been and will remain in custody pending sentencing, which is set for March 24, 2020. At that time, he faces up the life in prison as well as a possible $250,000 fine.

Border Patrol initiated the investigation in conjunction with Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bukiewicz is prosecuting the case.