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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

3 Mexican men charged after HSI dismantles Phoenix drop house

Smuggled aliens allegedly held for ransom, threatened by captors

PHOENIX – Three Mexican men face federal hostage-taking charges following their arrest Tuesday at a West Valley human smuggling drop house discovered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Espiridion Pablo-Madrigal; 34, Abel Donce de la Torre-Gonzalez, 32; and Luis Bretado-Aragon, 19, appeared in federal court Wednesday, where they were charged with hostage taking in a federal complaint.

HSI special agents were first alerted to the drop house May 13, after a caller contacted HSI Seattle to report that a man was demanding money or he would kill three of the caller’s family members who were allegedly being held hostage in a Phoenix drop house. HSI Seattle alerted HSI Phoenix special agents, who worked around the clock to develop information on the possible location of the drop house. By late Tuesday morning, authorities had sufficient reason to believe the individuals were being held in a residence on West Hazelwood Street in Phoenix.

When special agents and officers from the Phoenix Police Department responded to the house, they discovered the defendants and three of the caller’s family members. Special agents also recovered a .357 Magnum inside the residence.

According to the criminal complaint, the caller who contacted HSI told agents three of his family members had contracted with human smugglers to bring them from Mexico to Washington state. The caller told authorities he had wired money to the alien smugglers in Mexico May 8. The smugglers advised the man that his relatives were in transit to Arizona. Pablo-Madrigal is alleged to have then called the man Monday, demanding an additional $4,800 per person in ransom or he would "slit their throats and send pictures." The complaint also alleges the defendants kept the aliens locked in a bedroom with a boarded up window, where they were threatened, hit and pushed.

The investigation is ongoing. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona.

A criminal complaint is simply the method by which a person is charged with criminal activity and raises no inference of guilt. An individual is presumed innocent until competent evidence is presented to a jury that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

HSI has encountered 27 drop houses in the metropolitan Phoenix area in fiscal year 2013.