Texas Man Sentenced to 15 Years for Role in Illegal Immigrant Smuggling Deaths

A Texas man who helped recruit a truck driver to transport illegal immigrants in what became the nation's deadliest human smuggling attempt was sentenced Monday to 15 years in federal prison.

Fredy Giovanni Garcia-Tobar, 27, was convicted in December 2004 on 39 counts of conspiracy and transporting illegal immigrants for his role in the May 2003 smuggling attempt, in which 19 people died in a sealed trailer. He could have been sentenced up to life in prison.

U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore sentenced the Guatemala native, who said he was sorry for what he had put his family through. Several of his relatives attended the sentencing.

Authorities said Garcia-Tobar belonged to a ring that helped coordinate the smuggling attempt, in which more than 70 illegal immigrants were stuffed into a hot, airless tractor-trailer for transport from South Texas to Houston.

Prosecutors said Garcia-Tobar helped recruit Tyrone Williams, the truck driver who abandoned the trailer at a truck stop about 100 miles southwest of Houston after discovering the dead bodies inside. Williams was sentenced last week to life in prison.

Garcia-Tobar's attorney said his client, whom a court-ordered exam found to be mildly mentally retarded, wasn't a supervisor or leader in the ring, but simply relayed instructions to Williams from the ringleader.

Fourteen people were indicted in the case. Williams was the only one who faced a possible death sentence. The suspected ringleader, Karla Patricia Chavez, was sentenced last year to 17 years in prison.