CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas - A Corpus Christi federal jury has returned a guilty verdict against a Pharr man for unlawful transportation of undocumented aliens, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick. They deliberated for less than three hours before finding Heriberto Lerma guilty as charged.
During the two-day trial, the jury heard testimony that on April 15, 2019, Lerma drove a tractor trailer into the Border Patrol Checkpoint south of Sarita shortly after 1:00 a.m. Lerma told agents he was traveling alone and that he was hauling building materials. However, authorities noticed the bill of lading and the seal placed on the door of the trailer did not match.
The jury heard this is a common sign of tampering with the load.
Further, a canine had alerted to possible contraband in the trailer.
Authorities eventually located a total of 27 undocumented aliens in the trailer, all of whom were illegally present in the United States.
The defense attempted to convince the jury that the defendant did not know that the undocumented aliens were in his tractor trailer.
U.S District Judge David S. Morales presided over the trial and set sentencing for Nov. 3, 2019. At that time, Lerma faces up to five years of imprisonment and a possible $250,000 maximum fine.
Lerma was permitted to remain on bond pending that hearing.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation with the assistance of Border Patrol. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sara Popejoy and Amanda Gould are prosecuting the case.