Border Patrol finds 33 people in tractor-trailer at Sarita checkpoint

Border Patrol stopped a tractor-trailer early Tuesday morning at the Sarita checkpoint that the driver said was loaded with produce destined for an H-E-B distribution center in Houston.

Juan Antonio Chapa and Daniel Morales Zepeda, however, are now in federal custody after Border Patrol agents discovered 33 people, including two unaccompanied minors, hidden inside the tractor-trailer.

The driver and passenger, Chapa and Zepeda, respectively, are charged with transporting people who are in the country illegally.

Border Patrol became suspicious of the men after a law enforcement dog alerted to the tractor-trailer.

Chapa told investigators that a friend of his asked him to pick up a load of produce from a McAllen distributor after the original driver became sick, according to the criminal complaint.

The friend was going to pay Chapa $400 for the trip, but did not tell him where to take the tractor-trailer, federal investigators said.

“Chapa stated someone at the produce distributor instructed him to take the produce load to an HEB in Houston, Texas off US Highway 59 South,” the complaint stated. “Chapa stated he was not provided with the exact address, and he was just going to google the location.”

He never received any paperwork from the distributor and claimed that the only time he got out of the truck was at the distributor’s warehouse after being told the truck was loaded and the doors were shut, according to the complaint.

“Chapa stated he got out of the truck to confirm the doors were shut and he noticed the seal on the doors,” the complaint stated.

Border Patrol says Zepeda told investigators he had been friends with Chapa for 12 to 13 years and that Chapa asked him to accompany him to Houston.

He also said he did not know Chapa was smuggling people, according to the complaint.

However, investigators said Zepeda later provided multiple different stories and that material witnesses in the case contradicted some of the claims the suspects made.

The men were scheduled to make a first appearance in federal court Thursday morning in Corpus Christi, records show.