Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Pair Charged With Smuggling Illegal Immigrants (Tampa Tribune)

Pair Charged With Smuggling Illegal Immigrants

By THOMAS W. KRAUSE The Tampa Tribune
Published: September 9, 2008
Updated: 01:17 pm

TAMPA - Two men face charges that they illegally transported Mexican immigrants to Florida after Manatee County sheriff's deputies found five aliens in a van and nearly $18,000 stuffed into the pair's shoes.

On Sept. 4, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office got a call from a Bradenton man who said he was worried about his brother's safety, according to a criminal complaint affidavit filed by a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

Victor Gomez-Lopez said his brother, Pedro Gomez-Lopez, was living in Mexico and wanted to come to the United States. Pedro Gomez-Lopez had contracted with alien smugglers to drive him to Florida. Once here, he would work to pay off his transportation fees, according to the affidavit.

Victor Gomez-Lopez told the sheriff's deputies that he got a call from the smugglers. They told him terms of the deal had changed and they needed $1,350 before they would release his brother. Victor Gomez-Lopez did not have the money. When he met with the smugglers, the smugglers left without releasing his brother.

With help from the sheriff's office, Victor Gomez-Lopez agreed to meet the smugglers again, at a Bradenton McDonald's. Two men came to get the money and were arrested.

Those men turned out to be illegal aliens who also were smuggled into the United States, the affidavit states.

The deputies tracked down a van at a nearby Hampton Inn. Inside were several Hispanic men, including Pedro Gomez-Lopez. The men in the van told the deputies that the driver was the one who smuggled them.

After a brief search, the deputies saw another man in the parking lot. He fled, and they later found him hiding in a retention pond.

The driver, Yoni Hidalgo-Calderon, had $6,290 hidden in his shoes, the affidavit states. The man who fled, Luis Francisco Pineda-Hidalgo, had $11,570 in his shoes and $130 in his wallet, the affidavit states.

Both men are Mexican nationals. They were charged with transporting illegal aliens and conspiracy to transport illegal aliens.

Victor Gomez-Lopez told Border Patrol agents that he is a Mexican citizen, the affidavit states. He has been in the United States for four years but does not have documentation.

Pedro Gomez-Lopez told agents that he and the other four aliens were locked in the van during the trip from Phoenix to Bradenton. They were given buckets and bottles and were not allowed to leave the van to relieve themselves, the affidavit states.

Pedro Gomez-Lopez said Pineda-Hidalgo threatened to murder him and his family in Mexico if his brother did not pay.

Steve Cole, the spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Tampa, said the cases of all five aliens who came to Florida in the van – as well as the case of Victor Gomez-Lopez – are being evaluated.

"In all likelihood," Cole said. "They will all be returned to Mexico."

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