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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
03/02/2012

9 plead guilty to hostage taking or harboring illegal aliens

MCALLEN, Texas — Two men pleaded guilty on Friday to conspiracy to commit hostage taking, while seven others entered guilty pleas to conspiring to harbor illegal aliens, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Mission Police Department.

After receiving a ransom demand on Sept. 20, 2011, the relative of an illegal alien contacted law enforcement authorities the next day. The investigation led authorities to an area around Moorefield Road in Mission, Texas, where surveillance was initiated. Afterwards, three men were discovered in the vicinity, two of whom were later apprehended: Juan De Dios Cedillo-Narvaez, 30, and Luis Fernando Cedillo-Narvaez, 43, both Mexican citizens. At that time, the cell phone used to make the ransom calls was found in the possession of Cedillo-Narvaez who admitted that aliens were being held in a nearby apartment.

Consent was given to search the apartment by its renter, Martha Guadalupe Quiroga, 32, also a Mexican citizen. At the apartment, HSI special agents discovered 18 illegal aliens being held hostage; they were from Ecuador, Guatemala and Honduras. The victims stated they had been kidnapped from another location and forced to call their families and ask for money or they were going to be injured or something bad would happen to them.

The investigation by HSI and the Mission Police Department led to the identification and arrest of the following seven other suspects: Pablo Zepeda-Lechuga, 41, Balatazar Arcos-Torres, 35, and Jose Luis Lopez-Villanueva, 28, all citizens of Mexico illegally present in the United States; and Jose Angel Lopez, 21, Ricardo Lopez, 19, Osvaldo Ivan Rodriguez, 22, and Sarai Torres-Hernandez, 25, all U.S. citizens.

Juan De Dios Cedillo-Narvaez and Luis Fernando Cedillo-Narvaez were responsible for guarding the aliens at the stash house and having them call their families for ransom money in addition to organizing the hostage-taking operation. Quiroga provided her apartment to harbor the victims and also provided food and water to them. Rodriguez and Torres-Hernandez collected the ransom and smuggling fees from different Western Union locations. Zepeda-Lechuga, Lopez-Villanueva, Arcos-Torres and Ricardo Lopez took the victims from their original location and transported them to the stash house where they were ultimately held for ransom.

On Mar. 2, Juan De Dios Cedillo-Narvaez and Luis Fernando Cedillo-Narvaez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit hostage taking before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane. Sentencing is scheduled for May 16, at which time they face up to life in prison, a $250,000 fine or both. Quiroga, Zepeda-Lechuga, Lopez-Villanueva, Arcos-Torres, Ricardo Lopez, Rodriguez and Torres-Hernandez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens and face a maximum of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine or both. They are also set for sentencing on May 16.

The case against Jose Angel Lopez is still pending. He faces charges of conspiracy to commit hostage taking and conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens. He is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

Assistant U. S. Attorneys Patricia A. Rigney, Kristen Rees and Jimmy Leo, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted the case.