Nearly two years after an employee with the Starr County District Attorney’s Office was arrested for human smuggling, she has pleaded guilty to the charges.

Bernice Annette Garza, who worked as a crime victims coordinator, was arrested in 2022 by federal authorities on a charge of conspiracy to smuggle illegal aliens into the country. Garza allegedly transported the illegal aliens to Houston using a Starr County vehicle and was helped by two other individuals.

When talking to authorities, Garza allegedly admitted to participating in more than 40 human smuggling events since June 2022. Garza would drive the illegal aliens in the county vehicle past the Hebbronville checkpoint, where she would pass the job on to two other individuals, Juan Antonio Charles and Magaly Rosa. Charles and Rosa would then drive the illegal aliens to Houston in the county vehicle. Rosa alleged that Garza gave her the county vehicle and a DA badge to display, and the aliens were instructed to portray themselves as crime victims. In return, Rosa stated she would receive a payment of $3,000.

The three would make two to three trips to Houston per week, each time transporting about three to four illegal aliens further into the country.

The group’s crimes were discovered after the county vehicle was stopped for a tinted window violation in Victoria County. The Victoria County Sheriff’s Department had received previous tips that the county vehicle had been used for several unauthorized trips to Houston and was suspected of criminal activity involvement.

After Garza’s arrest, she was subsequently fired from the Starr County DA’s office, and the four illegal aliens in the vehicle at the time were turned over to U.S. Border Patrol agents.

Nearly two years later, Garza pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport undocumented people within the United States. Additionally, Rosa and Charles pleaded guilty to human smuggling charges. 

Sentencing for Garza and Charles has been set for September 28, while sentencing for Rosa is set for June 27. 

Under the current Texas penal code, human smuggling is a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years but with a mandatory minimum sentence of only two years.

Emily Medeiros

Emily graduated from the University of Oklahoma majoring in Journalism. She is excited to use her research and writing skills to report on important issues around Texas.