Man Sentenced After Brother Drowns in Failed Smuggling Attempt Near Border

Leobardo Soto-Toledo led 14 people into a pipe, which ends on the American side in a mechanical grate located about 1.5 miles east of the San Ysidro Port of Entry, according to prosecutors


A man who guided more than a dozen migrants through an underground drainage pipe at the U.S.-Mexico border during a rainstorm, leading to his brother's drowning death, was sentenced Monday to nearly four years in prison.

Leobardo Soto-Toledo pleaded guilty earlier this year to federal charges stemming from the Jan. 29 death of his brother, Diego Soto-Castro.

U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant sentenced Soto-Toledo to 45 months in custody Monday morning in San Diego federal court.

According to prosecutors, Soto-Toledo led 14 people into the pipe, which ends on the American side in a mechanical grate located about one- and-a-half miles east of the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

Prosecutors allege Soto-Toledo's job was to yell for help, prompting Border Patrol personnel to open the grate, which would allow the migrants to flee into a large swampy area nearby.

After the grate was opened, Soto-Toledo's brother, who prosecutors called a second foot guide, was found dead floating in the water. A woman was found unresponsive and floating in the water. Agents were able to revive her and she was taken to a hospital for additional care, according to prosecutors.

“Human smuggling efforts that result in a death and endanger lives are tragic and deeply disturbing,” Acting U.S. Attorney Randy S. Grossman said in a news release issued on Tuesday.

The culvert was approximately 5 feet by 5 feet and equipped with technology that can alert USBP agents when people are inside, Supervisory Agent Jeff Stephenson said in January after the incident.

The fatality was one of several highlighted by federal authorities earlier this year in an attempt to dissuade migrants from entering into perilous smuggling attempts.

Other recent fatal smuggling incidents in the San Diego area include two maritime attempts in May that resulted in capsized or disabled vessels.

On May 2, a boat carrying more than 30 migrants ran aground off Point Loma, leading to three drowning deaths. On May 20, one person drowned when a panga boat stalled off the coast of La Jolla and its occupants were instructed to swim to shore. In both incidents, migrants paid more than $12,000 each to be smuggled.

Last month, a woman died when she and dozens of others attempted to swim from Tijuana to Border Field State Park in Imperial Beach.

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