Three men indicted in transport of illegal aliens 37 people found in truck after crash

March 01, 1996|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A federal grand jury yesterday indicted two men from Guatemala and one from Mexico, charging that they conspired to transport and harbor 37 illegal aliens discovered Feb. 7 when a truck heading for the Eastern Shore crashed at the Bay Bridge.

Charged are Luis Alfredo Hernandez-Herrera, 23, of Mexico and Israel Perez-Herrera, 34, and Hermelindo Velasquez-Rivera, 18, of Guatemala. The three are alleged to have rented the truck and transported the group.

The charges carry penalties of a maximum five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The men could be deported if convicted.

"The information we have is that they got together in [Chandler,] Arizona," where the Ryder truck was rented Feb. 5, said Carmina S. Hughes, chief of the priority crimes group for the U.S. attorney for Maryland.

None of the passengers in the truck has been charged, she said, although they will be held as possible witnesses, to be available for interviews by defense attorneys for the three men charged.

Most of the passengers are being held at the detention centers in Wicomico and Howard counties. A few juveniles are being detained in Lehigh, Pa. No young children were passengers, Ms. Hughes said.

Deportation proceedings against the passengers "probably will be a pretty lengthy process," she said, because of the delay for the criminal trial. Federal speedy trial rules call for a trial within 70 days, and "we're ready to roll."

Passengers who have been interviewed by The Sun told of a harrowing journey from their homelands. The two-day truck ride from Arizona was an ordeal, they said, because they were not allowed out. Containers of feces and urine were found in the truck after the crash.

The federal investigation is continuing, although there may not be any more charges against the group, she said. "A number of people have been ruled out as targets."

She said investigators still are not certain where the truck was headed, but speculation -- "our educated guess" -- centers on poultry-processing plants on the Eastern Shore in Maryland, Virginia or Delaware.

That's primarily because there's no produce to pick in February, Ms. Hughes said.

Employers can be charged criminally if prosecutors can prove that they knew the workers were illegal aliens or helped to smuggle them in, she said. Because this is difficult, more often civil penalties are sought by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

"We had problems with illegal aliens being employed by processing plants on the Eastern Shore about two years ago" and they were handled in a civil action, Ms. Hughes said. If there were a second offense, she said, there probably would be criminal prosecution.

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