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Mexican National Convicted of Murdering Federal Whistleblower in Scheme to Defraud Undocumented Workers

Police at the scene of Eliud Montoya's murder in 2017, via WSAV-TV screengrab

Police at the scene of Eliud Montoya’s murder in 2017, via WSAV-TV screengrab.

A 45-year-old from Mexico who prosecutors say was living in the United States illegally will spend the rest of his life behind bars for his role in killing a whistleblower who exposed his multi-million-dollar scheme to systematically employ and defraud undocumented workers. A federal jury in Georgia unanimously found Juan Rangel-Rubio guilty on a spate of felony charges in connection with the 2017 fatal shooting of Eliud Montoya, the U.S. Department of Justice announced.

The DOJ listed the following as crimes for which Rangel-Rubio was convicted:   “Conspiracy to Retaliate Against a Witness; Conspiracy to Kill a Witness; Conspiracy to Conceal, Harbor and Shield Illegal Aliens; and Money Laundering Conspiracy.”

The charges carry a statutory minimum sentence of life in prison, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia.

Two other co-defendants, Rangel-Rubio’s brother, Pablo Rangel-Rubio, 53, and Higinio Perez-Bravo, 52, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to kill Montoya, a U.S. citizen who was gunned down near his home in Garden City, Georgia on August 19, 2017. He had reported the Rangel-Rubios and Perez Bravo’s scheme of hiring and mistreating undocumented workers to federal authorities just prior to his murder.

Pablo Rangel-Rubio via Charleston County Jail

Pablo Rangel-Rubio, via Chatham County Detention Center.

“This jury verdict brings resounding resolution to any doubts about the culpability of these defendants in this horrific conspiracy to kill a man who threatened their illegal and lucrative labor-trafficking scheme,” U.S. Attorney David H. Estes said in a statement. “We commend our law enforcement partners who solved this brutal murder and paved the way to holding these criminals accountable.”

According to the DOJ, prosecutors presented evidence during a five-day trial that showed Pablo Rangel-Rubio, also a Mexican citizen illegally present in the United States, was employed as a supervisor at Wolf Tree, a contracting company that specialized in cutting trees on utility rights-of-way. Juan Rangel-Rubio and Montoya both also worked for Wolf Tree.

The Rangel-Rubio brothers enacted a scheme wherein they would hire undocumented persons to work for Wolf Tree. The brothers would then route the paychecks of those workers to their own personal bank accounts where they would skim a percentage of the funds to pay themselves. The brothers netted a grand total of more than $3.5 million, per the DOJ.

When Montoya caught wind of the scheme and saw his colleagues being mistreated, he filed complaints with Wolf Tree management as well as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Two days after Montoya blew the whistle on the brothers, they hired Perez-Bravo to help them kill Montoya because they needed the use of his vehicle and to have him act as the getaway driver, prosecutors said.

Juan Rangel-Rubio ultimately pulled the trigger firing the shots that killed Montoya, the DOJ said.

All three of the men convicted in Montoya’s murder are scheduled to be sentenced next month.

“This sentence means that criminals like these defendants will not escape justice and will no longer be able to victimize anyone,” said Special Agent in Charge Katrina W. Berger, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operations in Georgia and Alabama. “We are thankful for the hard work done by all of the agencies involved in this case and hope that the verdict brings comfort to the victims and their families.”

[images via Chatham County Detention Center and WSAV-TV]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.