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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
06/06/2012

Houston jury convicts alien smuggler of hostage taking

HOUSTON – A Honduran man was convicted Wednesday of hostage taking and other related crimes, announced U. S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. The investigation was conducted by the Houston Police Department (HPD), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Cesar Avila, 35, an illegal alien from Honduras, was convicted of the following charges: four counts of hostage taking, one count of using a firearm during a crime of violence, and four counts of aiding and abetting harboring illegal aliens. The convictions followed a three-day jury trial before U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal.

Testimony during the trial showed that the Houston Emergency Center received a 911 call Aug. 19, 2011 at its operations facility from a subject who spoke only Spanish. The victim stated that he was being held against his will at a house in Houston by alien smugglers who had been hired to smuggle him to an unspecified location in the United States. He claimed Avila was armed with a handgun and had threatened the smuggled aliens with death, and they feared for their lives.

The Houston residence was eventually located on the 100 block of Jamaica Street by HPD officers. The residence had no windows, and the French doors on the north side had the glass panes covered with aluminum foil.

Once law enforcement entered the residence, several people, later identified as hostages, pointed to Avila as the hostage taker and smuggler. Officers also discovered a semi-automatic handgun and a ledger detailing payments by the smuggling organization under the mattress where Avila was sitting.

One smuggled alien advised officers he had been in the Houston area for about eight days and had been moved from house to house with five other aliens. He admitted he was in the country illegally, and that he paid smugglers $5,000 to smuggle him into the United States. He identified Avila as the man who was holding him. He said Avila was armed with a handgun and had threatened to kill him if he tried to escape. Further testimony revealed that the smugglers threatened to kill him if his family did not pay an additional $5,000.

The mother of a smuggled alien testified that smugglers contacted her and her family to demand more money. They threatened her son's life, and the life of her family, if the additional money was not paid. She was so frightened she contacted police who conducted surveillance to protect them. Her daughter also testified that the family raised money by borrowing it from friends and sent as much money as they could via wire transfer to the smugglers in Mexico.

Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 9. Avila faces up to life in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Julie Searle and Douglas Davis, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted the case.