Houston man sentenced to 10 years for recruiting, directing drivers to smuggle up to 185 people into US

HOUSTON – A Houston man has been ordered to federal prison following his conviction of conspiracy to transport undocumented migrants, the United States Department of Justice announced Tuesday.

Charles Lee Smith, 55, pleaded guilty on Dec. 1, 2021. He was sentenced to 120 months in federal prison, which is to be immediately followed by three years of supervised release, the DOJ said.

Investigators said from Feb. 26, 2021, through Sept. 14, 2021, Smith recruited others to transport undocumented migrants from Laredo to San Antonio, Houston and other destinations. Smith reportedly acquired and paid for the load vehicles as well as drivers’ travel expenses and lodging. He also recruited drivers, oversaw the events and supervised the transport of 182 undocumented aliens, including six unaccompanied minors, the DOJ said.

On Dec. 8, 2020, U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani said Smith personally transported three non-U.S. citizens, but law enforcement caught him. It was after this that he allegedly began recruiting others to drive.

On Sept. 9, 2021, a 40-year-old man from Magnolia named Brandon Joseph Bartholomew and Smith met in the Houston area. Smith reportedly hired and contracted Bartholomew for $10,000 per load to transport a tractor-trailer carrying passengers from Laredo to Houston. Smith told Bartholomew he would be able to take multiple loads that week, investigators said.

On Sep. 14, 2021, the DOJ said Bartholomew drove a tractor-trailer to the Border Patrol checkpoint near Freer. Authorities said he told them he was hauling rice and beans and presented a fraudulent bill of lading. Upon inspection, law enforcement discovered the logos and Department of Transportation number printed on the tractor and trailer were fraudulent. Authorities cut the trailer door seal and allegedly discovered 49 people from Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala. The temperature inside the enclosed trailer was 91 degrees, the release said.

On April 19, 2022, U.S. District Judge Diana Saldaña imposed a 33-month sentence for Bartholomew.

Smith will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation with the assistance of Border Patrol. Homeland Security Investigations and BP conducted the investigations on the other transporters with the assistance of Texas Department of Public Safety. Former Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) Matthew Isaac prosecuted this case. AUSA Colton Turner handled the sentencing.


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