SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – A Savannah man pleaded guilty in a conspiracy to kill a whistleblower who exposed a scheme to fraudulently employ undocumented workers.
U.S. Attorney David Estes for the Southern District of Georgia on Friday announced Higinio Perez-Bravo, 52, faces a mandatory life sentence for the conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire charge.
The guilty plea ended his U.S. District Court trial just as the third day was about to begin, Estes explained.
According to the U.S. attorney’s office, Perez-Bravo was paid $20,000 for using his vehicles and acting as the getaway driver in the murder of Eliud Montoya, who blew the whistle on a multi-million-dollar scheme of hiring and mistreating those living in the U.S. without legal permission.
Officials said Perez-Bravo worked at Wolf Tree with Montoya, a U.S. citizen, and Pablo Rangel-Rubio, a Mexican citizen living in Rincon illegally. Rangel-Rubio is said to have routed paychecks to himself, not only profiting from the company but skimming pay from undocumented workers.
According to the U.S. attorney’s office, Rangel-Rubio ultimately netted more than $3.5 million along with his conspirators in the scheme.
Montoya saw his colleagues being mistreated by Rangel-Rubio, officials said, and complained to the tree service company and to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That’s when Rangel-Rubio arranged for Montoya’s murder by paying Perez-Bravo, among other actions, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Back on Aug. 19, 2017, Montoya was found shot to death near his Garden City home. He was 41.
Perez-Bravo, Rangel-Rubio and his brother Juan were charged in connection with his death over a year later.
“Higinio Perez-Bravo took part in a plan that forever silenced a courageous whistleblower,” Estes stated. “Perez-Bravo acted as the getaway driver to help a murderer elude justice, but he could not escape the overwhelming evidence of his own guilt. I applaud law enforcement’s efforts and the assistance of Eliud Montoya’s family in holding this defendant accountable.”
Pablo Rangel-Rubio previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to conceal, harbor and shield illegal aliens; conspiracy to commit money laundering; three counts of money laundering; and one count of aiding and abetting the retaliation against a witness. He awaits a negotiated sentence of 600 months in prison.
Meanwhile, Juan-Rangel Rubio — who is also a Mexican citizen living in the U.S. illegally — awaits trial on related charges.