Immigrant Smuggler Gets 17 Years in Federal Prison

A woman who government prosecutors say played one of the biggest roles in an immigrant smuggling operation that led to the deaths of 19 people near Victoria has been sentenced to more than 17 years in federal prison. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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28-year-old Karla Patricia Chavez sobbed in court today as she told US District Judge Vanessa Gilmore that she was sorry for her role in the 2003 tragedy and that she did have compassion for the families affected. Chavez was arrested by Guatemalan authorities shortly after the immigrant deaths as she tried to enter the country from her native Honduras. After agreeing to a plea deal with prosecutors in 2004, she tried to withdraw the plea, a motion that was denied by Gilmore. Today, Chavez's attorney, John LaGrappe, couldn't say much about Judge Gilmore's sentence because of a gag order in the case.

"I can't comment on how I feel, however she did upwardly depart the guidelines, she did upwardly depart a small amount. The government had requested life. She did not to that, but she did grant a small upward departure."

The 209 month sentence exceeded the sentencing guidelines that ranged from 135 months to 168 months. Chavez will spend 17 years and five months in a federal prison and then will be under supervised release for the next five years. The driver of the truck who transported the illegal immigrants, Tyrone Williams, is still awaiting a second trial after jurors in his first trial couldn't decide on the most serious charges.

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