Member of Human Smuggling Organization Pleads Guilty in Deadliest US Human-Smuggling Case

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Another individual has pleaded guilty for their involvement in an illegal human-smuggling operation that resulted in the deaths of 53 migrants in a tractor-trailer, marking it as the deadliest human-smuggling event in U.S. history.

According to court documents, Riley Covarrubias-Ponce, a 31-year-old Mexican national, was part of a human smuggling organization responsible for illegally transporting 66 adults and children from various Central American countries into the United States. Covarrubias-Ponce played a role in coordinating the transportation of migrants from Laredo to San Antonio, where most of the migrants were discovered dead on June 27, 2022, due to poor ventilation and triple-digit heat.

Covarrubias-Ponce has pleaded guilty to several charges including conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death and transportation of illegal aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy. As per the United States Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Texas, the maximum sentence he could face is life in prison.

Prior to Covarrubias-Ponce’s guilty plea, Christian Martinez and Juan Francisco D’Luna Bilbao also pleaded guilty to similar charges for their involvement in the deadly smuggling attempt. Martinez, who lived in suburban Houston, admitted to playing a role in the operation by taking the driver of the trailer to San Antonio to pick up the vehicle. D’Luna Bilbao also faced additional charges related to firearms.

The cases of the four remaining defendants, including the driver of the tractor-trailer, are still pending, with the legal process ongoing. The guilty pleas of those involved shed light on the disturbing and deadly consequences of human-smuggling operations, underscoring the importance of efforts to combat such criminal activity.