Prison Cell

A Los Angeles resident has been sentenced to a seven-year prison term relating to the death of two men he was smuggling into the United States from Mexico. According to prosecutors, the dying men, who were trapped in the smuggler's trunk, were pleading for help, but the smuggler ignored their calls.

The 43-year-old smuggler, Nicholas George Zakov, was taken into custody at the Mexican border in San Diego last year. Federal agents found the dying men in Zakov's trunk, where the temperature had risen to over 104 degrees. The wait at the border was much longer than expected, and the two men -- who were cousins -- banged and yelled for help from inside the trunk.

Received $3,500 to Smuggle Men Across Border

Investigators say that Zakov admitted to receiving $3,500 as payment to drive the two men, aged 20 and 28, across the border into the United States. Zakov said that he decided to ignore the pleas of the men after texting the smugglers who hired him to ask what he should do.

When customs officials found Tarcisio Casas-Blanco and Jose Aurelio Quiroz-Casas in the trunk, they were not responsive and they could not be revived. Both of the men were from Guanajuato, Mexico. They had been captured as undocumented immigrants in the United States once before and agreed to voluntarily return to Mexico.

Pleaded Guilty to All Charges

In January, Zakov pleaded guilty on two counts of smuggling people for financial gain and two counts of smuggling people resulting in death. During Zakov's recent sentencing hearing, the Judge said that Zakov's actions made him a candidate for the death penalty, and the decision not to free the men from his trunk was "a horrendous choice." The judge said that he offered the lesser punishment, though, because Zakov showed great remorse over the incident and had pleaded guilty to all the charges early in his case.

"Smugglers show a callous and extreme disregard for the well-being of their customers, because this crime is all about money. These men did not have to die," the judge said.

Get Professional Legal Assistance with Immigration Matters

This is a tragic case of immigration smuggling gone wrong, and it is yet another reason why those who wish to immigrate to the United States should do so legally, by employing a qualified immigration law attorney.