DEL RIO, Texas – The final two in a group of 10 defendants indicted on human smuggling charges pleaded guilty last week.
Lauren Michelle Malmquist, aka “Mama” and “Lala,” 33, of Round Rock and Eduardo Rivera Benitez, aka “Lalo” and “Casper,” 24, of Bastrop pleaded guilty to illegal alien transportation resulting in death. Malmquist and Benitez were participants in a human smuggling organization arrested on March 15, 2021 near Del Rio.
Five additional defendants pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of illegal alien transportation resulting in death: Sebastian Tovar, 26, of Toledo, Ohio; Nicolas Mondragon-Gonzalez, aka “Chayo” and “Flaco,” 34, of Austin; Veronica Torres-Mendez, 35, of Austin; Jennifer Oralia Davis, aka “Paypa,” 41, of San Antonio; and Ruben Junior Rodriguez-Jaimes, 20, of Bastrop. These defendants, along with Malmquist and Benitez, each face a maximum penalty of life in prison.
The remaining three defendants pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to transport aliens: Marco Antonio Hernandez, aka “Temo,” 20, of Paige; Jose Eli Rodriguez, 22, of Austin; and Rogelio Manuel Luna, 34, of Austin. They each face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
According to court documents, Tovar was driving a Dodge Ram near Del Rio when a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) trooper attempted to stop the vehicle. Tovar tried to evade law enforcement but crashed into oncoming traffic. Eight undocumented noncitizen passengers in Tovar’s truck died in the crash, while one more was seriously injured. Additionally, two U.S. citizens were seriously injured in the head-on collision when Tovar struck their vehicle.
Following the crash, U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) agents encountered a Ford F-150 stopped in traffic near the crash site. The agents directed the driver of the Ford to turn around and subsequently all its occupants fled on foot into nearby brush. USBP agents were able to locate 12 undocumented noncitizens who bolted from the Ford. After interviewing two of the undocumented noncitizens, USBP agents determined that the occupants of the Dodge and Ford were part of a human smuggling operation that was illegally transporting 20 undocumented noncitizens in the U.S.
All 10 defendants currently await their next court dates for their respective sentencing hearings. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
U.S. Attorney Jaime Esparza of the Western District of Texas and Acting Special Agent in Charge Craig Larrabee of the Department of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) San Antonio Division made the announcement.
HSI, USBP and DPS are investigating the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Banister is prosecuting the case.