Smuggler of human beings gets year in jail

Juan Rodriguez

A man who has been arrested three times for allegedly smuggling illegal immigrants, and deported from the United States as many times, was sentenced Tuesday to serve one year in the Mesa County Jail related to his most recent smuggling arrest in March.

This, as a judge and prosecutor bemoaned a perceived lack of cooperation between government agencies in prosecuting cases under Colorado’s nearly 4-year-old human smuggling law.

“This is the second or third time in my division where this has come up,” District Judge Richard Gurley said before passing sentence Monday in the case of 34-year-old Juan M. Rodriguez. “While the Legislature has determined this to be a class 3 felony, with up to 24 years in prison, there are often problems of proof with the deportation of witnesses who are critical for a conviction.”

“It’s a frustrating circumstance,” the judge added.

Rodriguez, a Mexican national who authorities say faces deportation yet again, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a lone count of human smuggling, in addition to misdemeanor charges of obstructing a peace officer and false reporting.

The District Attorney’s Office signed off on a plea agreement that called for no prison time or a sentence to Mesa County Community Corrections. Chief Deputy District Attorney Trish Mahre suggested the agreement was a compromise driven in large part by her witness dilemma.

“It’s a race to get these cases prosecuted before my witnesses are deported,” Mahre told the judge.

It wasn’t clear Tuesday whether the nine individuals who allegedly were smuggled in Rodriguez’s case are still in federal custody or if they have been returned to their native countries.

Rodriguez confessed he was to be paid $1,000, in addition to gas costs, to drive the nine suspected illegal immigrants from Los Angeles to Denver on March 1, according to an arrest affidavit.

The van was stopped by a Colorado State Patrol trooper eastbound on Interstate 70 near De Beque for allegedly going 71 mph in a stretch of roadway posted for 60 mph, the affidavit said.

The passengers, including a 3-year-old boy, six men and two women, were expected to be dropped off near I-70 and Federal Boulevard in Denver. They were to make payment at the end of the trip, Mahre said Tuesday.

Mahre said Rodriguez acknowledged smuggling undocumented individuals for several years, while records show he’s been prosecuted just once by federal authorities. The outcome of that case wasn’t clear, Mahre told the judge.

Speaking through a Spanish-language interpreter, Rodriguez asked for the judge’s forgiveness. Rodriguez has family waiting for him in Mexico, and he has yet to see his first child who was born in California nine days after his arrest in Mesa County, Deputy Public Defender Stacie Colling said.

“I’m at your mercy,” Rodriguez told the judge.


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