By Dialogo December 02, 2011 A Mexican national in charge of a human smuggling ring responsible for the drowning deaths of nine illegal immigrants was sentenced to 30 years in a US prison, prosecutors said. Joel Cardenas-Meneses, 43, was in charge of recruiting illegal immigrants from Central America, arranging their transportation to northern Mexico and then smuggling them across the Rio Grande River to Texas. US officials began investigating the ring after discovering the bodies of seven men and two women who had drowned inside a vehicle that had fallen into an irrigation canal near Hildago, Texas. They determined that the vehicle’s teenaged driver had been driving — as instructed — with the lights off to avoid detection and lost control after making a sharp turn. The victims were illegal immigrants from El Salvador and Honduras. Cardenas-Meneses was arrested in Houston, Texas in February — more than four years after he was indicted on human trafficking charges — and convicted in September.