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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Fifth person convicted, 8 charged so far in Houston hostage taking/harboring case

HOUSTON – A Mexican national, who was convicted Friday of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens, is the fifth person so far convicted from eight who have been charged, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

This investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) offices in Houston, Washington D.C. and Virginia, along with Prince William County and Houston police departments.

Marco Garcia-Perez, 38, from Mexico, was among seven charged in an ongoing conspiracy to harbor and hold smuggled aliens for ransom payments. A third superseding indictment added an eighth individual, Emmanuel Rivera-Abarca, 19, from Mexico, who was deported Feb. 28. He is expected to appear before a U.S. magistrate judge in the near future.

Charges in the case stem from an investigation that began in mid-August 2012. Family members and friends of two aliens who had been smuggled into the country contacted law enforcement to report receiving extortion calls demanding money for an alien's release. Family members wired money which was picked up at various locations in Harris County, Texas.

HSI agents later executed a search warrant at a residence on Amblewood Drive in Houston, and encountered 26 illegal aliens, including at least two juveniles, who were allegedly being held hostage inside the residence. The aliens held hostage stated that once they arrived in Houston they were forced to undress. They were informed that they had been "sold" and would not be released until family members made payments to the men holding them hostage.

While being held hostage at the residence, victims reported they were held in their underwear, in locked rooms with boarded up windows and in deplorable conditions. The smuggled aliens also indicated they were guarded by men constantly armed with a handgun. They reported they were not allowed to leave the residence until payment was sent for their release. Some of the hostages said they were threatened with harm or death if payment was not received.

That same day, HSI agents also encountered and arrested the following Mexican nationals: Virgilio De La Torre-Santana, 27, Adauto Aguilar-Lara, 34, and Job Solis-Benito, 23. Subsequently, three more defendants were charged in the case: Samuel Castro-Flores, 41, from Mexico, Joshua Andrew Carbajal, 25, from Alice, Texas, and Garcia-Perez. The indictment remains under seal for those charged, but who are not in custody.

"Human smuggling organizations are driven by greed with little regard to the health, wellbeing or dignity of their human cargo," said Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of HSI Houston. "Those who place themselves or their loved ones in the hands of a smuggler should understand the very real dangers they are exposing themselves to – including being held as a hostage."

De La Torre and Aguilar have pleaded guilty regarding their roles in the ongoing conspiracy.

  • Garcia-Perez is set to be sentenced Sept. 20; he faces up to 10 years imprisonment and a possible $250,000 fine.
  • Both De La Torre-Santana and Aguilar-Lara are also set to be sentenced Sept. 20. De La Torre faces up to life in prison; Aguilar-Lara faces up to 10 years imprisonment. Both also face a possible $250,000 fine.
  • Charges remain pending against all remaining defendants. A final pretrial conference and jury selection are scheduled for June 10.

The remaining defendants are presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Casey N. MacDonald, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting this case.