Smuggling organizer sentenced for recruiting and directing drivers to transport up to 185 people

HOUSTON – A 55-year-old Houston resident has been ordered to federal prison following his conviction of conspiracy to transport undocumented aliens, announced U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani. 

Charles Lee Smith pleaded guilty Dec. 1, 2021.

Today, U.S. District Judge Gray Miller ordered Smith to serve 120 months in federal prison to be immediately followed by three years of supervised release.

From Feb. 26, 2021, through Sept. 14, 2021, Smith recruited others to transport undocumented aliens from Laredo to San Antonio, Houston and other destinations. Smith 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. On Dec. 8, 2020, Smith personally transported three non-U.S. citizens, but law enforcement caught him. It was after this that he began recruiting others to drive.   

On Sept. 9, 2021, Brandon Joseph Bartholomew and Smith met in the Houston area. Smith hired and contracted Bartholomew for $10,000 per load to transport a tractor trailer pre-loaded with non-U.S. citizens from Laredo to Houston. Smith told Bartholomew he would be able to take multiple loads that week.  

On Sep. 14, 2021, Bartholomew drove a tractor-trailer to the Border Patrol (BP) checkpoint near Freer. He told authorities 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 discovered 49 undocumented aliens from Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala. The temperature inside the enclosed trailer was 91 degrees.

On April 19, 2022, U.S. District Judge Diana Saldaña imposed a 33-month sentence for Bartholomew, 40, Magnolia.

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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