San Diego

Son of Mexican Mariachi Star Changes Plea to Guilty in Human Smuggling Case

Jose Emiliano Aguilar, 24, son of renowned mariachi star Pepe Aguilar, was arrested at the San Ysidro border crossing on March 14 after agents discovered four undocumented Chinese nationals crammed into the trunk of his car

The son of a famous Mexican mariachi musician charged with trying to smuggle four undocumented Chinese nationals crammed in the trunk of his car across the U.S.-Mexico border is now pleading guilty in the case.

According to documents filed in the United District Court for the Southern District of California in San Diego, Jose Emiliano Aguilar, the 24-year-old son of Grammy Award-winner Pepe Aguilar, changed his plea to guilty on June 6.

Per the documents, Jose's sentencing hearing is now set to take place on Aug. 14 before United States District Judge Anthony J. Battaglia.

The son of the mariachi star was arrested by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers on March 14 at the San Ysidro border crossing in south San Diego, and charged with human smuggling. 

At his arraignment in April, he entered a not guilty plea to the federal charge through his San Diego-based defense attorney, Jeremy Warren. At that time, Warren said the Aguilar family was thankful for the outpouring of support from Pepe's fans through the ordeal.

"The Aguilar family is grateful for the outpouring of love and support from thousands of people in the United States, Mexico, and all over the world. They are united and strong and they stand by their son Jose Emiliano. They thank everyone for their kindness and understanding as the case progresses," read the statement from the family.

According to a complaint filed in federal court, Jose allegedly arranged to smuggle four immigrants into the U.S. under a deal in which they would each pay him between $3,000 and $60,000 if they successfully entered the country.

The complaint said Jose drove through a border checkpoint just after 5:45 p.m. on March 14 in a Chrysler 200, accompanied by a woman in the passenger seat.

Jose, who is a U.S. citizen, showed his passport to border agents, while his passenger showed officers her border crossing card. Jose allegedly told officers they were headed to San Diego and had nothing to declare from Mexico.

During a routine primary inspection of the car, a K-9 dog alerted officers to the trunk. Officers told Jose to unlock it, the complaint said. Inside the small space were four undocumented Chinese nationals -- three women and one man. Jose and his companion were detained while border agents removed the people from the trunk.

They were questioned as "material witnesses" and, according to documents, admitted they were citizens of China without lawful documents to enter the U.S.

Each had made their own smuggling arrangements with Jose, agreeing to pay him to help them get into the U.S., according to the complaint. Two of the Chinese nationals said they planned to head to Los Angeles, while the other two said they were headed to New York City.

A document filed in the U.S. District Court Southern District of California shows Jose was released on a bond of $15,000 following his arrest. His bond conditions included that he not travel to Mexico and that he not possess any drugs or firearms. He also had to report to supervision to a pretrial services agency.

Additional conditions outlined for Jose included that he must undergo psychiatric or psychological counseling, he must "actively seek and maintain full-time employment, schooling, or combination of both," and must live with his mother. He also had to surrender his passport and could not apply for new travel documents.

While Warren previously confirmed Jose's relation to Pepe Aguilar, the defense attorney said this case has nothing to do with the mariachi singer.

"We understand the interest in our client Jose Aguilar because of his father’s musical career. However, this case has nothing to do with Pepe Aguilar. Jose Aguilar is young man who will address this matter in court, and not in the press," Warran said in a statement to NBC 7 in March. "We understand that Pepe Aguilar will provide a statement shortly. In the meantime, we ask that you respect the family’s privacy."

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