Pilot Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Illegal Immigrants in Texas

Small Plane
LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty

A pilot, accused of the attempted smuggling of four illegal immigrants from an airport in the Rio Grande Valley to Houston for a fee of $3,000, pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of conspiracy to transport aliens as part of a plea deal.

Louis Alphonse Luyten, an 80-year-old aviator, appeared before U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez in McAllen, Texas, earlier this week, according to the Monitor. In exchange for his guilty plea, federal prosecutors agreed to dismiss four other related charges.

On November 4, 2018, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents from the McAllen office detained Luyten on the tarmac of the Mid-Valley Airport in Weslaco as he taxied for takeoff with four non-U.S. citizens aboard and Houston bound for a fee of $3,000, according to the criminal complaint. The federal agents observed that the private aircraft matched the description of one operated by Luyten, whose piloting license previously had been revoked. His age had nothing to do with it.

In 2007, Luyten pleaded guilty in Connecticut for transporting 100 pounds of marijuana by plane from Canada to Hartford. Then, in 2009, the Associated Press reported Luyten was one of two pilots under investigation later recorded agreeing with an undercover FBI agent to move 10 kilos of cocaine from an airport in Florida to one in New Jersey for a fee of $15,000.

Luyten is a U.S. citizen and former NATO pilot fluent in numerous languages. Originally from Belgium, he served in the Belgian Air Force for roughly 20 years. Reportedly, a New Jersey resident, he once ran a flight school in Connecticut.

In November, after HSI McAllen special agents approached the aircraft on the Weslaco airfield, they “positively” identified Luyten as the pilot. Once on board, they found four men from Central America — two from Guatemala, one from El Salvador, and one from Honduras. The complaint stated “they were all undocumented aliens with no legal right to be or remain in the United States.”

In an interview with federal authorities, Luyten “admitted knowing the individuals were illegally in the United States.” He told officers he was paid $3,000 to shuttle them to Houston. That money was stuffed into an envelope in his back pants pocket, according to the court documents. Luyten also divulged he smuggled “additional undocumented aliens” at least three other times and was paid $3,000 each time.

HSI investigators then spoke with the four passengers. They “each admitted they were illegally present in the United States and each paid to be transported to Houston, Texas, by aircraft.”

The criminal complaint against Luyten was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. It described his offenses as “knowingly and in reckless disregard of the fact that aliens who had entered the United States in violation of law, did enter into conspiracy with others unknown to transport aliens by means of a private aircraft in furtherance of such violation of law within the United States, this is, from a location in Weslaco, Texas, to another location in Houston, Texas.”

Luyten will be sentenced on April 25, according to the Monitor. He faces up to 10 years in prison for trying to transport the four Central American men illegally in the United States.

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