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Tuesday, July 20, 2004

HoustonChronicle.com - Judge says immigrant smuggler's 14 months in jail is enough

HoustonChronicle.com - Judge says immigrant smuggler's 14 months in jail is enough
A man jailed after 19 undocumented immigrants died in a smuggling attempt through South Texas last year was sentenced today to time already served for holding for ransom the 3-year-old son of a survivor.


Juan Carlos Don Juan, 22, was sentenced to the 14 months he has served in the federal detention center since his arrest last year, despite efforts by prosecutors to stiffen his sentence.

"I know I did wrong," Don Juan told U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore. "I just want to get out of jail and take care of my son."

Don Juan, the first of 14 members of the smuggling ring indicted last year to be sentenced, had faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for harboring an undocumented immigrant.

Gilmore ordered that he be transferred to Cameron County to face state drug and bond-jumping charges.

Prosecutors had sought a tougher sentence after he refused to testify against his girlfriend, accused of assisting Don Juan in the extortion attempt.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Rodriguez argued for a harsher sentence because Don Juan had allegedly lied to probation officers and had avoided harsh sentences as a juvenile for a string of burglaries by using a different name each time he was arrested.

Don Juan and common-law-wife Erica Cardenas, 23, were arrested in the parking lot of a McAllen shopping center May 15, 2003, after he tried to exchange the boy for cash.

The boy is the son of a Honduran woman who was among at least 74 undocumented immigrants crammed into a sealed refrigeration trailer May 14, 2003.

The boy had been riding in a car following the trailer.

Seventeen immigrants died inside the trailer as immigrants clawed at the insulation and punched holes to let in air. Two others died in the hospital.

Cardenas's trial had been delayed pending an appeal by the prosecution of Gilmore's decision to throw out one of two statements Cardenas made after her arrest.

Investigators say Don Juan worked for alleged human smugglers Victor and Emma Rodriguez of Brownsville. Both were indicted along with Don Juan, but are jailed in Mexico City on immigrant smuggling charges.

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