Rafa & Cuco: Smuggling 17 Illegals in a Toyota Tundra

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Two men received stiff sentences for running an illegal-immigrant smuggling business that was exposed when a Toyota Tundra carrying 17 of their clients crashed, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Houston announced today.

Rafael Valles, "a.k.a. El Viejo or Rafa," and Refugio Reyna-Huerta, "a.k.a. Cuco," respectively got sentences of ten years and five months and eight years, the USAO said. Valles is an American citizen and Renya-Huerta is a Mexican citizen.

A fatal car crash near Falfurrias in February 2010 led to police discovering the scheme.

The driver of a Tundra believed he was being followed and made a sudden turn to get away, the USAO said, causing the vehicle to flip over.

"At the accident scene, agents identified one deceased individual, a Mexican citizen, and a badly damaged Toyota Tundra," prosecutors said. "Further investigation revealed the Tundra was carrying approximately 17 illegal aliens from the McAllen area to Houston, where the illegal aliens would be further transported to other locations throughout the United States."

The pair has also rented a stash house in McAllen to house their clients.

Seven others involved in the scheme were also sentenced:

-- Mario Salinas, 24, of Mexico, who was the driver of the Tundra, was sentenced to 75 months in prison.

-- Gabriel Dominguez-Benitez, 27, of Houston, conducted counter-surveillance and was sentenced to 41 months in prison.

-- Jovany Calderon-Vargas, 24, of Mexico, who worked at the stash house, was sentenced to 37 months in prison. Specifically, Calderon-Vargas kept track of payments made by family members of the illegal aliens so that the organization could determine who would be transported north.

-- Nestor Flores-Perez, 35, of Mexico, and Alejandro Amaya-Arevalo, 28, of Mexico, were sentenced to 30 and 57 months in prison, respectively, for transporting aliens to the stash house.

-- Angelica Verastegui-Espinoza, 25, of Mexico, who rented the stash house at the direction of Reyna-Huerta, was sentenced to 23 months in prison.

-- Juliana Vanessa Cruz, 26, of McAllen, was sentenced to 46 months in prison for transporting illegal aliens to the stash house from the Rio Grande river.

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