Texas Human Trafficking Ring That Allegedly Smuggled Hundreds Of Migrants Hit With Money Laundering Charges

The payments were disguised as fake construction jobs.
The sun sets behind a gap along the border wall at the Morelos Dam between the US and Mexico in Yuma, Arizona on May 31, 2022. - The stream of impoverished humans flowing into the United States via Mexico runs through the country's public discourse, dividing its politics and coloring relations with nations to the south. The issue of migration is set to loom large at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles this week, even without the presence of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is boycoting the meet in protest at the exclusion of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)
PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

Alleged members of a human trafficking ring in Texas who are accused of smuggling hundreds of migrants in squalid conditions were charged with money laundering on Friday.

The group hid their payments for smuggling illegal migrants across the border by disguising them as compensation for fake construction jobs, federal prosecutors said.

The new charges were filed against Erminia Serrano Piedra, 32, also known as Irma or “Boss Lady,” and three men.

“Boss Lady” and the other three alleged traffickers “conspired to engage in financial transactions designed to conceal the nature, location, source, ownership, and control of ill-gotten proceeds of illicit human smuggling and the unlawful harboring and transportation of undocumented aliens,” according to the superseding indictment from a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Texas.

The four suspects, who allegedly led the trafficking ring, are accused of recruiting and using “straw persons” to accept human smuggling payments into their bank accounts and then transfer the payments to the leaders as “work” payments for construction.

They also allegedly recruited people to accept human smuggling payments as cash and then transfer the payments as checks from their business bank accounts.

The indictment also mentions the criminal forfeiture of three properties worth about $2.3 million, $515,000, and $344,000, as well as about $2,945,027 in money judgments.

Three of the four defendants were previously charged with human smuggling in a September indictment.

The September indictment included photos of migrants crammed in wooden crates, in the back of tractor-trailers, and trapped in the bed cover of a pickup truck.

Last year’s indictment was the result of a large operation that arrested 14 alleged human smugglers led by “Boss Lady” that “facilitated the unlawful transportation and movement of migrants within the United States in deplorable conditions for profit,” the Justice Department said.

Smugglers have used a plethora of creative means to get their human cargo past border authorities and into the country.

This month, smugglers were caught using a fake U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) truck to try to sneak migrants over the U.S. border in California on Saturday.

Border authorities warn that it is extremely dangerous for migrants to depend on smugglers to help them make the trek up through Central America and over the U.S. border illegally.

Last year in June, 53 migrants died in an 18-wheeler that was decked out to look like a legally registered truck. The truck made it past a Texas border checkpoint and arrived in San Antonio, where it started having mechanical problems and was abandoned by its driver.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has allowed hundreds of thousands of new illegal migrants into the country.

Overall, during the last two years, the administration has allowed at least 541,000 migrants into the country through the parole authority, which allows the federal government to let in migrants without visas.

Exacerbating the issue is the end of Title 42, a COVID emergency rule that allowed authorities to deport migrants quickly back to Mexico.

Title 42 expired on May 11 after several previous attempts by the Biden administration to end it.

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