CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A 37-year-old San Benito man has been ordered to federal prison following his conviction of illegally transporting undocumented aliens within the United States, announced U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.
Eric Mendiola pleaded guilty May 23 to smuggling 31 individuals while driving an 18-wheeler.
Today, U.S. District Judge Drew B. Tipton ordered Mendiola to serve the statutory maximum of 60 months in federal prison to be immediately followed by two years of supervised release. At the hearing, the court heard additional evidence that this is Mendiola’s third conviction for smuggling humans. In handing down the sentence, the court noted the manner in which Mendiola transported individuals.
At the time of his plea, Mendiola admitted that on March 20, Mendiola drove a tractor trailer into the Border Patrol (BP) checkpoint near Sarita. At inspection, A K-9 soon alerted authorities to the presence of concealed humans. Law enforcement opened the doors of the trailer and discovered individuals hiding behind a load of produce.
In the trailer were 31 undocumented aliens – 19 from Mexico; five, four and two from Columbia, Guatemala and El Salvador, respectively; as well as one Honduran national. All were determined to be in the United States illegally. In addition, the temperature inside the refrigerated trailer was 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mendiola will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.
Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation with the assistance of BP. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Marck prosecuted the case.