Federal authorities brought charges against a Texas state employee who they said was using her official government vehicle from the Star County district attorney’s office to smuggle illegal immigrants to Houston.
Those involved said they made two or three trips a week since the summer, and one of them counted a total of 46 smuggling runs from the border to Houston using the official government SUV, according to court documents.
Investigators said, Bernice Annette Garza, a crime victim coordinator in the DA’s office, was the ringleader, using her vehicle with official insignias to slip through Border Patrol highway checkpoints to get migrants away from the border.
Authorities have also charged two people they say were working with Ms. Garza.
District Attorney Gocha Allen Ramirez fired Ms. Garza, according to The Monitor, a newspaper in McAllen, Texas.
He said they were already investigating Ms. Garza for misuse of the vehicle.
“This investigation is an example of no one being above the law, and our office taking swift action in eliminating public corruption,” the Starr County release said, according to The Monitor.
According to federal court records, a Victoria County Sheriff’s Office deputy spotted the vehicle on Wednesday and flagged it as suspicious after earlier reports that it was seen repeatedly making the trip through the county to Houston and “was suspected of being involved in some type of criminal activity.”
The deputy pulled the SUV over for a violation of the state’s window screen label law.
After talking with the occupants, the deputy figured they were involved in smuggling and called in Homeland Security Investigations agents.
The driver, Magali Rosa, and her husband, Juan Antonio Charles, were arrested along with four illegal immigrants. They pointed to Ms. Garza as the orchestrator, saying she sometimes drove herself but usually gave them the vehicle to drive migrants through the checkpoint and into Houston.
Mr. Charles was carrying a firearm at the time, authorities said.
The couple said they were getting $3,000 for this trip.
Ms. Garza admitted to investigators that she had turned over her government vehicle and her badge to Ms. Rosa and Mr. Charles to make the trip under the guise of being on official DA duty. Ms. Rosa said Ms. Garza even armed them with fake stories and papers to use so they could pretend to be crime victims if challenged.
Ms. Rosa said they have made 46 trips since June, and Mr. Charles said they usually carried three or four people per trip.
Authorities said one of the illegal immigrants was Honduran and said he paid $10,000 to be smuggled. Another was Mexican and said he paid between $8,000 and $9,000 for his smuggling trip.
The other two were a mother and her 8-year-old child.