Trucker Convicted of Smuggling 27 Illegal Aliens Tells Jury He Didn’t Know
Corpus Christi, TX – A South Texas trucker who contends he was unaware illegal aliens were in the back of his tractor-trailer during an inspection earlier this year was convicted on Tuesday for unlawfully transporting 27 undocumented aliens.
During the two-day trial, the jury heard testimony that on April 15, 2019, Heriberto Lerma, 42, Pharr, Texas, drove a tractor-trailer into the Border Patrol Checkpoint south of Sarita shortly after 1 a.m.
Lerma told agents he was traveling alone and that he was hauling building materials.
However, authorities noticed the bill of lading and the seal placed on the door of the trailer did not match which is a common sign of tampering with the load.
Further, a canine alerted to possible contraband in the trailer, according to Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sara Popejoy and Amanda Gould, who prosecuted the case.
Authorities eventually located a total of 27 undocumented aliens in the trailer, all of whom were illegally present in the United States.
The defense argued that the Lerma was a victim of a human smuggling scheme.
Lerma told the jury was unaware the undocumented aliens were in his tractor-trailer which is a common defense in these cases, according to U.S. prosecutors.
In July, Transportation Nation Network (TNN) reported a recent case in which a Mexican national facing human smuggling charges admitted to U.S. officials he frequently used truckers in South Texas as pawns to transport people in big rigs without their knowledge.
READ more on that report HERE.
The federal jury ultimately did not believe Lerma and returned a guilty verdict in less than 3 hours.
Lerma is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 3, 2019.
He faces up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 maximum fine.
Lerma was permitted to remain on bond pending that hearing.
The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Corpus Christi, Texas, with assistance from the U.S. Border Patrol.
For more news on the big rig border battle, click HERE.
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