Crime

14 men crammed into SUV on I-64 near New Baden accused of entering country illegally

Five things to know about smugglers of undocumented migrants

Here's five things you should know about smugglers of undocumented migrants.
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Here's five things you should know about smugglers of undocumented migrants.

Eight people from Latin America have been charged and six others are facing deportation in a suspected human smuggling operation discovered in Clinton County, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office for Southern Illinois.

Authorities said they found 14 men from Guatemala and Ecuador crammed in an SUV after the car was pulled over for a traffic stop the morning of Feb. 25 on Interstate 64 near New Baden, a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s office stated. They believe the men, all between 16 and 34 years old, were in the country illegally.

The driver, 20-year-old Domingo Tomas-Zacarias, of Guatemala, is accused of transporting the 13 other men across an international border illegally, and with their consent, in exchange for a fee. He has been charged with human smuggling and faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Seven of the passengers in the car are facing up to two years in prison and a $250,000 fine because federal authorities say they have come back to the U.S. after being deported before. They include Segundo Porfirio Ordonez-Japon, 34; Alejandro Mejia-Hernandez, 24; Silvestre Bopp-Mendoza, 30; Miguel Raymundo Velasco, 19; Rigoberto Heredia-Lopez, 30; Fidencio Quizar-Sharshente, 32; and Diego Brito-Bernal, 24.

Investigators say the other six passengers had entered the U.S. illegally at various times through Arizona or Texas, but they had never been deported. They remained in custody as of Tuesday with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement division pending deportation proceedings, according to the news release.

A Drug Enforcement Administration task force officer from the Lebanon Police Department had pulled the car over on I-64 for improper lane usage, according to an affidavit from a federal agent who helped investigate.

Agents from Homeland Security Investigations and ICE responded to the scene, and local police officers from Lebanon and New Baden assisted them.

They found a total of 14 people in the car, including the driver, in the seats and on the floor. Some were hiding under a blanket in the back tailgate.

The SUV had a temporary license plate from Texas, the affidavit stated.

Tomas-Zacarias, the driver, told federal agents he had been working in construction in Amarillo, Texas, where a man asked if he would like to bring some people to Louisville, Kentucky, according to the affidavit. The document states he said he wanted to do it because of his economic situation.

He was going to be paid $800 when he got back to Texas. But he told authorities he was afraid the car would be stopped by police because the weight of all of the people in the back caused the SUV to appear inclined.

Bopp-Mendoza, one of the men accused of returning to the U.S. in the car after being deported, told authorities he paid about $1,040 to be smuggled from Guatemala to Ohio to look for work. He gave them the amount in Guatemalan currency, 8,000 quetzals.

Velasco, a 19-year-old who had also been deported previously, said his father paid a smuggler $11,000 in Guatemala to bring him to the U.S., according to the affidavit.

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