LAREDO, Texas — A Texas woman has pleaded guilty for her role in a scheme to illegally transport hundreds of foreign nationals within the United States and conspiracy to launder proceeds of illicit human smuggling, U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani has announced.
According to court documents, Erminia Serrano Piedra, 32, conspired with at least 14 other members of a human smuggling organization.
“Piedra led that facilitated the unlawful transportation and movement of hundreds of migrants within the United States and harbored and concealed the migrants from detection by law enforcement authorities,” a news release states. “The migrants were citizens of Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia, and they or their families paid members of the organization to help them travel illegally to and within the United States.”
The organization used drivers to pick up migrants near the U.S.-Mexico border and transport them further into the United States, often harboring the migrants at “stash houses” along the way.
Drivers for the human smuggling organization used various methods to transport migrants, including by hiding them in suitcases placed in pickup trucks and by cramming migrants into tractor-trailers, covered beds of pickup trucks, repurposed water tankers and wooden crates strapped to flatbed trailers.
“The methods the organization used to transport migrants placed their lives in danger as they were frequently held in confined spaces with little ventilation, which became overheated, and were driven at high speeds with no vehicle safety devices,” according to the news release.
Members of the organization commonly referred to the migrants as “boxes,” “packages” or “pieces.”
Typically, the fee paid to the organization was approximately $8,000, with $3,000 paid upfront to smugglers in Mexico and the remainder paid once the migrants entered the United States.
According to Hamdani’s office, payments were routed through various accounts all over the United States, and the money from those accounts was then transmitted to the leaders of the organization.
According to her plea agreement, Piedra admitted to stating during the course of the conspiracy that she made a lot of money from her involvement in human smuggling and was going to continue making a lot of money in the years to come. She also stated that she had been doing this “for a lifetime already” and was not planning to retire.
Piedra also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in financial transactions designed to conceal the nature, location, source, ownership and control of ill-gotten proceeds of illicit human smuggling.
“The leaders of the organization recruited and utilized straw recipients to accept human smuggling proceeds in the recipients’ bank accounts and then transferred the proceeds to the leaders under the pretense of work payments,” the news release states. “The others also incorporated businesses and opened business accounts to transfer the human smuggling proceeds. Additionally, co-conspirators recruited individuals in the construction industry who accepted human smuggling proceeds in the form of cash in exchange for checks from the recruited individuals’ business bank accounts.”
The superseding indictment in this case also notices the criminal forfeiture of two properties belonging to Piedra with current estimated values of $2,275,000 and $515,000 that were purchased with the illicit proceeds of human smuggling. Serrano is also agreeing to a money judgment of $942,537.00.
Piedra is scheduled to be sentenced April 10 and faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.
Ten others previously pleaded guilty for their roles in the scheme. Kevin Daniel Nuber aka Captain, 42, and Laura Nuber aka Barbie, 41, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport aliens, placing in jeopardy the life of any person and conspiracy to harbor aliens for the purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain.
Christine Dangler, 46, Lloyd Bexley, 53, Jeremy Dickens, 47, Juan Manuel Hernandez Cordova, 46, David Scott Tallant, 54, Katie Ann Garcia, 40, and Abraham Geber Lopez, 28, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport and move aliens, placing in jeopardy the life of any person.
Oliveria Campuzano Piedra, 54, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harbor an alien for profit. The co-conspirators are awaiting sentencing.
Born and raised in Little Rock, AR, Erica N. Guy decided to stay in her hometown to begin her professional career in journalism. Since obtaining her bachelor’s degree from UAPB, Erica has professionally written for several publications about several topics ranging from lifestyle, tech, culture, and entertainment, just to name a few. Continuing her love for her hometown, she joined our team in June 2023, where she is currently a staff writer. Her career goals include continuing storytelling through her writing by being the best professional writer she can be. In her spare time, Erica enjoys trying new foods, cozying up with a good book, spending time with family and friends, and establishing herself as a future businesswoman.