Posted on May 10, 2022

Immigrant Smugglers in San Antonio Are Turning More Violent

Guillermo Contreras, San Antonio Express News, May 7, 2022

Manuel F. was fast asleep that humid September night after a day of construction work when the crash of glass and the crack of gunfire outside his home awoke him.


It was past midnight, and people in two passing vehicles had thrown at least three Molotov cocktails. One crashed into their home, a second hit their van and the third landed in the driveway. The assailants also directed gunfire at the house.


The family, who asked not to be fully identified for fear of retaliation, was targeted by a human smuggling organization that also was involved in arms trafficking, court records show.

The case is still being untangled more than two years later, and it represents a shift among human smugglers in the San Antonio area. For years, smugglers here have operated in the shadows. Now they have been blamed for cases of random violence in and around Bexar County. Many have opted to run and ditch their human cargo at any sign of police or the Border Patrol, resulting in rollover crashes, officials said.

“One thing we’ve seen is a change in smugglers,” Craig Larrabee, deputy special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in San Antonio, said in a recent interview. “They were nonviolent. We’ve seen more of them involved in violent crime.”

One of the latest cases came Thursday, when the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office raided a stash house in the 11400 block of Briggs in the southwest part of the county. The deputies were investigating an increase in crime in the area.

“As part of our operations out here on Briggs Road, there has been an ongoing concern with an increase in violent crime, trafficking, smuggling activity, stolen vehicles and, today, we’ve got all of the above,” Sheriff Javier Salazar said.


Investigators found nearly 40 immigrants on the property, which Salazar said had two homes and a workshop. Some of the migrants said they had not eaten in six days. Others had carpet glued to their shoes, a common tactic used by smugglers to avoid leaving tracks when they guide immigrants through brush after they cross the Rio Grande.


The sheriff’s office in February dismantled another stash house nearby, in the 11200 block of Briggs. In that case, deputies found stolen vehicles, seized $60,000 in cash from two suspects and detained nine people — two of them truckers suspected of transporting large groups of immigrants.

Deputies began monitoring that home after an uptick in violent crime, including at least one gunbattle between two moving vehicles. The stash house is in a rural area with large lots and horse farms, not far from truck stops near San Antonio’s city limits.

Salazar said that the Briggs Road stash house cases appear to be related and that federal agents with Homeland Security Investigations are investigating both.


Some of Sandoval-Pineda’s co-defendants pleaded guilty in the firebombing and shooting of Manuel’s home after their lawyers reviewed videos they had posted to social media, which have since been scrubbed from the internet, records show.


Homeland Security and ATF declined to talk about the firebombing because the investigation is continuing, but federal investigative reports and court documents show the home was one of more than two dozen in San Antonio targeted by a group led by Sandoval-Pineda, who pleaded guilty last year to a host of crimes and is awaiting sentencing this summer. Other homes were also attacked with Molotov cocktails.


Sandoval-Pineda’s group held immigrants against their will, demanding higher smuggling fees than were previously negotiated, court records show.


According to law enforcement reports reviewed by the Express-News, the group’s violence also involved murder.

For over three years, police have said little about the July 30, 2019, murder of Jose Trinidad Olvera Perez, 23. He was shot about 3:40 a.m. in the 800 block of Marquette. A caller told officers that a Hummer left the scene. The SUV was stopped on Hillcrest. Inside, police found Fabricio Chavez, who had been shot in the arm, and Antonio Marical, who had been shot in the leg. The driver of the Hummer fled on foot.

No one has been charged in Perez’s death, but federal investigators have taken an interest in the case since two other people were killed shortly before Christmas 2019 in Central Texas. Federal agents believe the killings were connected to immigrant smuggling and gun smuggling, reports show.

Adriana Emma Mariscal Rocha, 39, and her son, Alex Rocha Serrano, 19, were found shot dead in a home in Comanche, south of Fort Worth, on Dec. 20, 2019.


As for Sheriff Salazar, he said there’s a reason why immigrant smugglers war with each other — their human cargo is valuable.

“They’re all paying about $6,000 to $10,000 apiece to get smuggled in,” Salazar said. “That’s major money.”