Man pleads guilty to human smuggling in Summit County
Summit County correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado – A man accused of 14 felony-human-smuggling counts pleaded guilty to one of them amid trial on Tuesday.
Cresencio Campos-Villegas, 48, was arrested in May 2009 after a state trooper pulled over the Ford van he was driving with 14 illegal-immigrant passengers, according to the Colorado State Patrol arrest affidavit.
The plea agreement with the district attorney’s office resulted in dismissal of the other 13 counts.
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said interruption of a trial for a plea agreement is “exceedingly rare,” but a few rulings against the prosecution affected the outcome.
“We’re taking human smuggling very seriously,” he said, adding that his office will push for a long sentence.
Campos-Villegas of California picked up passengers in Los Angeles, and some of them had planned destinations as far as Miami.
The class III felony carries a penalty of four to 12 years in prison, with a fines of $3,000 to $750,000.
Hurlbert said that if Campos-Villegas had been found guilty of all 14 counts in trial, he might have been sentenced to serve them concurrently.
“He’s looking at a lot of years in prison,” he said.
None of the illegal immigrants testified at the trial, for they had all been deported. The DA’s office previously had an informal agreement with US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement that allowed for it to keep witnesses available before deportation.
It’s more difficult to prosecute these cases without witnesses, Hurlbert said.
Campos-Villegas last year was pulled over for speeding eastbound on Interstate 70 through Summit County between Dillon and the Eisenhower Tunnel. The state trooper observed that more occupants were in the van than it was designed to carry, and a child who was about 4 years old was lying on the floorboard between the front seats, according to the arrest affidavit.
Passengers claimed to be nationals of Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala; only Campos-Villegas had identification confirming he was a U.S. resident. The child was believed to be a U.S. resident and was turned over to social services, but the rest of the passengers were deported.
After he was read his Miranda rights, Campos-Villegas reportedly told troopers that he had been planning a trip to Colorado when he stopped at a Mexican restaurant next to a Greyhound bus station in Los Angeles. He said that a man approached him from the bus station and said several people needed a ride to Colorado, according to the affidavit.
Campos-Villegas repeatedly denied taking money from the van’s passengers.
Several of the illegal immigrants said they gave money to Campos-Villegas to take them to places across the country. One man said he had paid $600 for a ride to Miami, and that he paid Campos-Villegas $160 for gas, according to the affidavit.
Other passengers also said they paid Campos-Villegas for gas, and $458 in cash was found on him when he was arrested. The 1999 Ford van had more than 379,000 miles on it.
A background check found that a van registered to Campos-Villegas had previously been apprehended in a smuggling load, according to the affidavit.