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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

2 operators of "Welcome to Hell" stash house plead guilty to harboring aliens

MCALLEN, Texas – Two operators of the "Welcome to Hell" stash house pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy to harbor aliens, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. The investigation is being led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with the assistance of U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Border Patrol.

Vicente Ortiz-Soto and Marcial Salas-Gardunio, both 23 and Mexican nationals, pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiracy to harbor aliens. U.S. District Judge Randy Crane held a hearing May 23 where both Ortiz-Soto and Salas-Gardunio admitted to their roles in the conspiracy and opted to plead guilty. The guilty pleas resulted from an investigation involving local law enforcement officers and federal authorities. They were sent to a residence in Edinburg, Texas, May 2 after a 911 caller indicated he was being held against his will in an alien stash house.

According to court documents, upon arrival at the scene, authorities discovered more than 100 illegal aliens from various countries located in three separate buildings on the property. One building was chain-locked and several illegal aliens who were locked inside the building were later treated for injuries.

Statements taken from the illegal aliens indicated they were allegedly threatened by Salas-Gardunio that they would be beaten or killed if they did not remain quiet. Witnesses also indicated that Salas-Gardunio stated "Welcome to Hell" when illegal aliens arrived at the residence.

Ortiz-Soto and Salas-Gardunio were arrested May 2 after the criminal complaint was filed. They will remain in federal custody without bond per court order pending sentencing. An indictment was returned against the defendants May 15. Their sentencing has been set for July 30. Ortiz-Soto and Salas-Gardunio face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on each count.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Cory J. H. Crenshaw, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting the case.