Fugitive Arrested in Miami in Connection With Border Crossing Deaths

A suspected alien smuggler and wanted fugitive was arrested Wednesday in connection with the trunk deaths of two undocumented immigrants. 

Homeland Security Investigations took Eduard Cornejo-Saavedra, 43, of Peru, into custody at Miami International Airport on alien smuggling charges.

He was sought in connection with the border smuggling deaths of Tarcisio Casas-Blanco and Jose Aurelio Quiroz-Casas, who suffocated in the trunk of Nicholas Zakov's car while he tried to smuggle them across the U.S.-Mexico border at San Ysidro in August, 2014. Zakov previously told a federal judge that he "takes full responsibility" for their deaths. 

Saavedra was requested about six weeks ago at the request of U.S. officials in Tijuana and soon after, he was ordered deported back to Peru, U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said. He was on his way there when U.S. officials intercepted him in Miami and plan to transfer him to San Diego, where he will face charges. 

Zakov was sentenced to seven years in prison on Sept. 29. Judge Battaglia also sentenced Zakov to five years of supervised release when he finishes his prison sentence. 

He called it a "tragic case" but said Zakov deserved the 7-year sentence because "he chose to proceed" with the smuggling, despite signs that the victims were suffering. "We don't leave our decision-making process at the door," Battaglia told Zakov.

According to a 2014 complaint, Zakov was taken into custody after trying to cross into the U.S. at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. At that point, the complaint said, he confessed everything to border officers.

Zakov's attorney argued his client had a minor role in the smuggling conspiracy, did not arrange for the victims to be smuggled, and only followed directions from the criminal organization that arranged the smuggling. He said he was "partying" in Tijuana when he was approached by someone who offered him a chance to earn money by taking immigrants across the border, and "reuniting families." Zakov said he rejected the offer several times, but then decided to do it.

He had been instructed to drive to a Denny's in Chula Vista with the two men in the trunk. There, he would receive further instructions. He said he coordinated the smuggling operation with three different men in Mexico and was promised a payment of $3,500.

Zakov's attorney said his client has cooperated fully with a government investigation into the smuggling ring, and suggested that a prison term of 57 to 71 months would be appropriate punishment.

Saavedra has been charged with two counts of encouraging and inducing illegal aliens resulting in death and two counts of bringing illegal aliens into the U.S. for financial gain. If convicted, he could face a life imprisonment, a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

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