Third smuggler tied to the deaths of 53 illegal immigrants in San Antonio pleads guilty

SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) — Riley Covarrubias-Ponce, 31, was a member of the human smuggling organization responsible for the failed smuggling attempt that illegally brought adults and children from Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico into the U.S.

According to court documents, in the days leading up to June 27, 2022, Covarrubias-Ponce coordinated with other members of the smuggling organization regarding the immigrants who were being smuggled to Laredo for further transport to San Antonio.

He traveled from Houston to accompany the loaded tractor trailer as it transported the immigrants north on Interstate Highway 35, ultimately ending up at the unloading location on Quintana Road in San Antonio, where it was discovered that dozens of the smuggled immigrants had died.

Covarrubias-Ponce pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death; one count of conspiracy to transport aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy; one count of transportation of illegal aliens resulting in death; and one count of transportation of illegal aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy. He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Defendants Christian Martinez, 29, pleaded guilty to the same charges in September 2023.  Juan Francisco D’Luna Bilbao pleaded guilty to the same charges as Martinez and Covarrubias-Ponce in addition to a firearms charge in June 2023.

Four other co-defendants whose cases are still pending include Homero Zamorano Jr., 47, who served as the driver of the tractor trailer; Felipe Orduna-Torres aka Cholo aka Chuequito/Chuekito aka Negro, 29; Luis Alberto Rivera-Leal aka Cowboy, 38; and Armando Gonzales-Ortega aka El Don aka Don Gon, 54.

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