A man who guided more than a dozen migrants through an underground drainage pipe at the US-Mexico border during a rainstorm that resulted in the drowning death of his brother was sentenced Monday to nearly four years in prison.
Leobardo Soto-Toledo pleaded guilty earlier this year to federal charges stemming from the Jan. 29 death of his brother, Diego Soto-Castro. U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant sentenced Soto-Toledo to 45 months in custody Monday morning in federal court in San Diego.
According to prosecutors, Soto-Toledo led about 14 people into the pipe, which ends on the US side with a mechanical gate located about a mile and a half east of the San Ysidro port of entry.
Prosecutors allege that Soto-Toledo’s job was to cry out for help, prompting border patrol personnel to open the gate, which would allow migrants to flee to a large swampy area nearby.
When the gate was opened, Soto-Toledo’s brother was found dead in a tumultuous stream of water. A woman was also found unconscious and floating in the water. She was then resuscitated in a hospital.
According to prosecution sentencing documents, three of the people who entered the pipe paid between $ 8,000 and $ 9,636 to be smuggled into the United States. Soto-Toledo was to be paid $ 500 for the work.
In a defense condemnation memorandum, Soto-Toledo attorney Ryan Mardock wrote that his client had only agreed to guide migrants to support his family in Mexico. Soto-Toledo was told by a recruiter that there would be “no problem,” according to the attorney, who wrote that those who ran the event “tackled Mr. Soto’s economic situation from the same way they prey on the countless people who attempt illegal entry into the United States each year.
The death was one of many highlighted by federal authorities earlier this year in an attempt to deter migrants from engaging in dangerous smuggling attempts.
Other recent fatal smuggling incidents in the San Diego area include two maritime attempts in May that resulted in the capsizing or immobilization of ships.
On May 2, a boat carrying more than 30 migrants ran aground off Point Loma, drowning three times. On May 20, a person drowned when a panga boat stalled off La Jolla and its occupants were ordered to swim to shore. In both cases, the migrants paid more than $ 12,000 each to be smuggled.
Last month, a woman died when she and dozens of others attempted to swim from Tijuana to Border Field State Park in Imperial Beach.
–City news service