Mexican human smuggler “inadvertently” released before trial, flees country

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A young illegal alien convicted of conspiracy to commit hostage taking and conspiracy to transport undocumented aliens now roams free after jailers “inadvertently” released the man ahead of his trial.

Thursday, Luis Gerardo Betancourt, 20, was convicted in absentia of threatening to maim and kill family members of people in the U.S. who hired him to smuggle them into the country, including an 8-year-old girl. The report states that the Florida victim paid $17,000 to have her daughter smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico on Nov. 30, 2015, according to the criminal complaint.

The mother reportedly received another phone call the next day demanding an additional $18,000 from a man claiming to have brought her daughter to the U.S. When the woman claimed she did not have have the money, the man threatened that he would maim or kill her daughter.

The mother testified in court that they threatened to cut off her daughter’s fingers and ears, reports WFTV 9.

On Dec. 4, 2015, FBI agents traced the cell phone to Betancourt’s home, where he was taken into custody. He denied any involvement in human trafficking, said court documents.

Authorities claim Betancourt recruited people for the kidnapping scheme and collected the ransom money. Jonathan Carlos Valdez-Harris and Luis Enrique Perez-Talavera were also arrested in connection and later pleaded guilty to hostage incident last year, though Betancourt rejected the plea deal.

Meanwhile, Betancourt was transferred to the Starr County jail, where he awaited trial. Shortly after, prosecutors decided to drop two drug charges and three charges of lying to FBI agents. The motion was granted by U.S. District Judge Randy Crane on March 9, dismissing all five charges – though two charges remained: hostage taking and conspiracy to transport aliens within the U.S.

For reasons unknown, a major blunder occurred and someone allegedly thought all charges against Betancourt had been dropped and sent a “Prisoner Remand or Order to Deliver and Receipt for U.S. Prisoners” to the Starr County jail.

In response, the jail released Betancourt on March 10, according to Starr County Sheriff’s Office records.

The Starr County Sheriff’s Office and the Marshals Service have declined to comment on the matter surrounding Betancourt’s release, says the report.

Betancourt never attended his scheduled court hearing, to which the judge inquired about his absence. FBI Special Agent Lynette Linn and Deputy U.S. Marshal Juan Lara testified that he likely fled to Mexico.

Attorney Richard Alamia, who represents Betancourt, stated: “No one knows. I don’t know where he is. His mother doesn’t know where he is. The marshals don’t know where he is.” He added, “They released him by mistake because they thought the case had been dismissed.”

The case against Betancourt proceeded without him on March 24. Within three hours on Thursday, the jury convicted Betancourt on both remaining charges. The report states Betancourt’s sentencing is scheduled for June, though he remains a fugitive.

Authorities suspect Betancourt may have ties to the Gulf Cartel.

H/T: CBS 4 New, U.S. Department of Justice, WFTV 9

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