A federal judge handed down a more than a six-year prison sentence for a Cameron County man in a human smuggling case, records show.

During a sentencing hearing Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez sentenced Benito Lopez III to a 82-month prison sentence for his role in a human smuggling operation, according to court records.

Lopez, 53, of Los Ebanos, pleaded guilty to the human smuggling charge he was facing last February, records show.

Federal agents identified Lopez, also known as “Chamuco,” as a member of the Bandidos Outlaw Motorcycle Organization, a motorcycle group formed in South Texas in the mid-1960s.

Lopez was responsible for smuggling up to nearly 100 undocumented people over the course of a four-month period — he had created a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury based on the conditions in which he housed the undocumented people, the court found.

“Alvarez enhanced the sentence, finding Lopez obstructed justice by providing detailed confidential information to co-conspirators regarding the investigation. He was also in possession of firearms and used minors during and in furtherance of the conspiracy,” according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of Texas.

During the course of two days in November, the court heard how Lopez seriously jeopardized an ongoing investigation into an illegal organization capable of smuggling hundreds of undocumented people through the Los Ebanos area. The court also heard testimony regarding the extensive surveillance system Lopez utilized to conduct counter-surveillance in order to accomplish the purpose of the conspiracy, the release stated.

Federal agents, on Oct. 1, 2019, conducted surveillance on what they suspected to be a stash house located across the street from the Rio Grande in Los Ebanos.

There, they observed several suspected undocumented people fleeing from the location. Authorities apprehended a total of seven of the people — all determined to be illegally present in the United States, the release stated.

Subsequently, Lopez was identified as the caretaker of the stash house where he held the people in a 5-by-8 foot bathroom with no electricity, anything to eat or drink or running water for almost 12 hours before they managed to escape.

Authorities arrested Lopez at the stash house on Oct. 4, 2019, for his role in the conspiracy. He was paid for each undocumented person successfully crossed from Mexico and out of the Los Ebanos area.

Lopez has been in custody since he violated his conditions of release where he will remain pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future, the release stated.


lzazueta@themonitor.com