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  1. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)
  2. News Room
  3. Human Smuggling Ringleader Sentenced Following HSI Rio Grande Valley Investigation

Human Smuggling Ringleader Sentenced Following HSI Rio Grande Valley Investigation

Release Date: May 2, 2024

McALLEN, Texas — The leader of a human smuggling organization and five others were sentenced April 30 for conspiring to smuggle noncitizens following an investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) with assistance from the U.S. Border Patrol.

Saul Torres-Martinez aka Cobra, 42, of Houston, led and organized the smuggling operation and was sentenced to 110 months in prison.

Ernesto Mata Pioquinto, 32, of Mexico; Marcelino Navarro Sanchez, 31, of Mexico; and Luis Esteban Martinez, 41, of Alamo, Texas were also sentenced to 52 months in prison. Robert Hernandez, 26, of Fresno, California, was sentenced to 39 months in prison, while Noemi Silva, 39, of Wimauma, Florida was sentenced to 87 months. Torres-Martinez was also sentenced to 87 months in federal prison. Hernandez, Silva and Torres-Martinez will serve three years of supervised release following their imprisonment. Not being U.S. citizens, Torres-Martinez, Pioquinto and Sanchez are expected to face removal proceedings following the completion of their sentences. In handing down the sentence, the judge noted the seriousness of the offense and expressed concern regarding the harm Torres-Martinez caused to the community. All the defendants in this case pleaded guilty July 6, 2021.

“Dismantling human smuggling networks has been a longtime focus for HSI, but when smuggling events result in migrant deaths, it intensifies our effort,” said HSI San Antonio Special Agent in Charge Craig Larrabee. “Human smuggling is dangerous, but as this case demonstrates, it can also be deadly. HSI will not stop investigating and bringing smugglers to court to face justice. There can be no safe haven for smugglers who evade our nation’s laws and have reckless disregard for human life.”

“Human smuggling organizations simply don’t care,” said U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani. “They do not see the migrants they transport as human beings, but rather as currency. As a result, when you put yourselves in these criminals’ hands, you risk exposing yourself to extreme danger or even death.”

According to court documents, as a part of an approximately two-year investigation into human smuggling in the Rio Grande Valley, law enforcement officials identified and apprehended six members of the Cobra human smuggling organization. The smuggling network was responsible for moving more than 100 undocumented noncitizens from the Mexican border to Houston from 2018 to 2019. Evidence revealed that members of the human smuggling organization were responsible for a smuggling fatality and an alleged sexual assault of another smuggled individual.

Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas Matthew Phelps prosecuted the case.

HSI San Antonio continues to address the serious public safety threat posed by human smuggling organizations and their reckless disregard for the health and safety of the people they exploit. To report suspicious activity, call the HSI Tip Line at 877-HSI-4-TIP. The HSI Tip Line is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Last Updated: 05/02/2024
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