HOUSTON — Sixteen people were arrested Tuesday on alien smuggling and/or drug smuggling charges. The arrests were announced by: U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas; Special Agent in Charge Sean McElroy, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); and Chief Charles McClelland, Houston Police Department (HPD).
The two-year investigation resulted in the return of two sealed indictments Sept. 20, which were unsealed following the execution of arrest warrants Oct. 16 and 17.
The first indictment outlines a long-term smuggling operation dating back to July 2011. According to the indictment, illegal aliens were smuggled across the United States-Mexico border and were either required to pay a fee or transport narcotics into the country to satisfy their smuggling debt. The indictment outlines how this group allegedly used conference calls during their smuggling venture as they tried to locate and avoid law enforcement.
Aliens and drugs were transported through the South Texas area into and throughout the United States, according to the charges. Those operating the smuggling ring were allegedly paid large sums of money for their involvement.
"Transnational criminal organizations account for a growing amount of crime in our communities and across the country," said McElroy. “HSI is committed to working together with our local law enforcement partners to keep our communities safe."
Following are those who were arrested Oct. 16: Eliazar Gonzales, 28, Jose Luis Fuentes, 30, Ruben Avila, 31, Daniel Avila, 29, Jose Antonio Lopez, 24, Jose Galvan Arranda, 50, Israel Alcaraz, 31, and Vinnie Chavez, 34, all of Houston; Noemi Rosales-Sanchez, 35, of Roma, Texas; Marino Garcia, 36, of Mexico; and Otoniel Dumari Hernandez-Rojas, 31, of El Salvador. They are expected to appear before Magistrate Judge Mary Milloy Oct. 17. Fidel Galarza Cardenas, 46, of Mexico, made his initial appearance Oct. 11 after being transferred from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
If convicted of the marijuana conspiracy charge, the defendants face up to 40 years imprisonment and a $5 million fine; if convicted of alien smuggling, they face up to 10 years and $250,000 fine.
Four others were also arrested Wednesday, but charged in a separate case: Aldo Teyes-Sanchez, 29, Eulogio Alanis, 27, Antonio Rivas-Vargas, 29, all of Houston; and Saul Porros-Sanchez, 24, of Mexico, are charged with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine. They face up to 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine.
Those taken into custody Wednesday are expected to appear this week before Judge Milloy.
These charges resulted from an investigation by HSI and HPD, with the assistance of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark E. Donnelly and Timothy S. Braley are prosecuting this case.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.