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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

4 Mexican nationals each sentenced to more than 3 years in federal prison following their human smuggling guilty pleas

HOUSTON — Four Mexican nationals were sentenced to federal prison for their roles in a large human smuggling case that resulted in the discovery of more than 80 illegal aliens in a Houston residence announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcements (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Houston Police Department (HPD).

The following four men were each sentenced to 37 months in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Keith P. Ellison: Luis Trejo-Onofre, 30, Jose Santos-Solorzano, 24, Jose Victor Perez-Olivas, 42, and Gumecindo Jaime-Martinez, 37. All pleaded guilty Oct. 31, 2012 to conspiracy to harbor and transport illegal aliens.

"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."

This investigation began Sept. 18, 2012 when a Nicaraguan national flagged down a Houston police officer to report that her 17 year-old daughter was being held by an alien smuggling organization that was seeking additional smuggling fees as a condition of her release. The woman, who had traveled from San Antonio to pick up her daughter from the smuggling organization, was directed to wire $1,700 to Jalisco, Mexico, via Western Union. The smugglers instructed her to deposit the money if she wanted to see her daughter again.

After several calls, the woman was told to meet at a local drug store where she could have her daughter for $1,500. An undercover agent accompanied the woman to the meeting and observed the girl in the suspects' vehicle. Soon after, special agents and officers blocked the vehicle and activated emergency lights and sirens. Trejo-Onofre and Santos-Solorzano were in the two front seats, but refused to open the doors and rammed one of the vehicles surrounding them. HSI special agents broke one of the windows, rescued the girl and took the suspects into custody.

The minor female advised that she was held hostage by armed smugglers along with several other illegal aliens, including children, who were often mistreated. The residence was soon located on the 3400 block of Boxelder in Houston. Perez-Olivas was observed and followed as he left to purchase food at a local store and return to the residence. HSI special agents and HPD officers then began to secure the residence and identify those inside.

Most of the men being held were only wearing underwear. HSI special agents recognized Perez-Olivas among the group whom several of the aliens pointed out as a smuggler as well as Jaime-Martinez.

Several aliens were struck and some were locked in a closet. The smugglers carried weapons which were found and seized by special agents at the residence. The smugglers also ordered some of the aliens to remove their clothing to make it more difficult for the aliens to attempt escaping.

A total of 82 smuggled aliens were being held in the house from six different countries; eight of them were juveniles.

Trejo-Onofre, Santos-Solorzano, Perez-Olivas and Jaime-Martinez will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future. As illegal aliens and convicted felons, all four will be deported after they complete their prison sentences.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Davis, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.