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Documents: Driver admits to repeat human smuggling, arrested after El Paso traffic stop

ICE agents in El Paso found 23 immigrants and 250 pounds of marijuana inside a semitrailer just outside the city limits on Aug 16, 2017. Credit: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

A traffic violation and an outstanding warrant led authorities to find 23 undocumented immigrants hiding in a semitrailer, according to court documents.

A semitrailer was pulled over for a traffic violation early Wednesday morning, court records show.

A sheriff’s deputy discovered that the driver, Comothial Harper, 44, of Bainbridge, Georgia, had a warrant for his arrest for fraud in Abilene, Texas, records state.

As a result, authorities searched the semitrailer and found three undocumented immigrants hiding in the sleeper cabin, the documents said.

Homeland Security Investigation and the El Paso Border Enforcement Security Taskforce were called in, and 20 more undocumented immigrants were found hiding behind commercial boxes in the back of the trailer, the documents said.

The driver told authorities that this wasn’t the first time he tried transport undocumented immigrants, court documents allege.

According to court documents, Harper was approached by a man about a month ago at the Petro gas station in Horizon City.

The man asked Harper if he would give family members a ride to California for $3,000. Harper said he knew the family members were in the country illegally when he agreed to give them a ride, the documents said.

Harper was told to drive to a gas station in California to drop off the individuals and receive compensation, the documents said.

A few weeks later, the same man contacted Harper and asked him to drive six more people to Dallas, Texas, the documents said. Harper agreed and was paid $3,000, the documents said.

On Tuesday, the man contacted Harper to drive more people to Dallas for $5,000, documents show.

Harper agreed to pick up the individuals at the Petro gas station in Anthony, Texas, sometime between 3 and 4 a.m., the documents said.

Harper told authorities he arrived at the gas station, filled up his truck, took a 30-minute break due to driving policies and later parked near the back of the building, where it was dark, the documents said.

Soon after, a vehicle pulled up behind the truck and started loading the group into the trailer, the documents said.

Harper grabbed a cooler filled with cold water bottles from the cabin and placed it in the trailer for the undocumented immigrants to drink because he knew the trailer didn’t have air conditioning or ventilation, the documents said.

Harper began driving eastbound on Interstate 10 until he was stopped by El Paso County sheriff’s deputies near the intersection of Gateway Boulevard east and Eastlake Boulevard.

When Harper was arrested, he was found with $4,300 cash, which he admitted came from proceeds from previous deliveries, the documents said.

The money was seized by federal agents.

According to court documents, one of the immigrants told authorities he or she crossed into the U.S. two days prior by crossing the Rio Grande near Downtown El Paso. The individual was picked up by an unknown person and was dropped off at an unknown location, the documents said.

The individual was told he or she was going to be smuggled to Austin and would be smuggled through a semitrailer, the documents said.

Another immigrant told authorities he or she crossed the Rio Grande near the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry about a week ago. That person was also picked up by an unknown individual and taken to an unknown location before being placed in the trailer, the documents said.

A couple that crossed illegally on Tuesday was also picked up and later transported to the trailer, the documents said. The couple was put inside the trailer because they were told the air conditioning unit sometimes malfunctioned, the documents said.

Harper was arrested and faces a charge of transporting illegal aliens for financial gain.

A passenger, Gerardo Aguilar-Roque, 35, was charged with possessing with intent to distribute marijuana after 256 pounds of marijuana was found inside the vehicle, federal officials said.

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