A man who guided more than a dozen migrants through an underground drainage pipe at the U.S.-Mexico border during a rainstorm, leading to his brother’s drowning death, 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 on Monday morning in San Diego federal court.
According to prosecutors, Soto-Toledo led around 14 people into the pipe, which ends on the American side in a mechanical grate located about one- and-a-half miles east of the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
Prosecutors allege Soto-Toledo’s job was to yell for help, prompting Border Patrol personnel to open the grate, which would allow the migrants to flee into a large swampy area nearby.
When the grate was opened, Soto-Toledo’s brother was found dead in a rushing stream of water. A woman was also found unresponsive and floating in the water. She was later revived at a hospital.
Three of the people who entered the pipe paid between $8,000 and $9,636 to be smuggled into the United States, according to the prosecution’s sentencing papers. Soto-Toledo was to be paid $500 for the job.
In a defense sentencing memorandum, Soto-Toledo’s attorney, Ryan Mardock, wrote that his client only agreed to guide the migrants in order to provide for his family in Mexico. Soto-Toledo was told by a recruiter that there would not be “any problems,” according to the attorney, who wrote that those who directed the event “preyed on Mr. Soto’s economic situation in the same way they prey on the innumerable people who attempt to enter the United States illegally each year.”
The fatality was one of several highlighted by federal authorities earlier this year in an attempt to dissuade migrants from entering into perilous smuggling attempts.
Other recent fatal smuggling incidents in the San Diego area include two maritime attempts in May that resulted in capsized or disabled vessels.
On May 2, a boat carrying more than 30 migrants ran aground off Point Loma, leading to three drowning deaths. On May 20, one person drowned when a panga boat stalled off the coast of La Jolla and its occupants were instructed to swim to shore. In both incidents, 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