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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Federal jury in Houston convicts leader of human smuggling organization of hostage taking, other related charges

HOUSTON — A federal jury in Houston Thursday convicted the leader of a human smuggling organization on 18 counts to include conspiracy to commit hostage taking, hostage taking and other charges involving smuggling aliens and firearms.

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; and the Houston Police Department.

The investigation on Samuel Castro-Flores, aka "Chame" or "Chamuco," 41, a Mexican national, began in mid-August 2012 after two illegal aliens had been smuggled into the country and their family members began to receive extortion calls demanding money for their release.

"The tragedy and violence in this case shows the disregard for life by these human smuggling organizations," 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 – including being held as a hostage and exposed to extreme life-threatening danger.

On Sept. 7, 2012, HSI special agents executed a search warrant at a residence on Amblewood Drive in Houston and encountered 26 illegal aliens being held hostage inside the residence; at least two of the hostages were juveniles. According to the alien hostages, upon arrival in Houston they were forced to undress and informed they had been "sold" and would not be released until family members paid for their release. 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. Some victims said they were threatened with harm or death if payment was not received.

The evidence at trial showed that Castro-Flores was the leader of the smuggling organization which held these aliens hostage and extorted their families for thousands of dollars before their release. The evidence demonstrated Castro-Flores took extensive steps to avoid being detected by law enforcement. For example, he asked witnesses to help him present a false story that he was simply a repairman who happened to be at the Amblewood residence on one occasion to fix the air conditioning.

An air-conditioning repair company owner in Houston reported that he once employed Castro-Flores as a helper in his business but fired him after learning he was involved in smuggling aliens. He also testified Castro-Flores later tried to use him to present a false impression to law enforcement that he was only involved in the air-conditioning business.

Prior to committing the offenses in this case, Castro-Flores was convicted of conspiracy to harbor aliens in the Southern District of Texas in July 2009 and subsequently deported in January 2011. He illegally re-entered the United States after his deportation and was arrested in this case Dec. 5, 2012 in Houston. Before trial, Castro-Flores pleaded guilty to illegal re-entry, one of the charges from the indictment in the current case.

Castro-Flores was convicted of the following charges:

  • one count of conspiracy to commit hostage taking,
  • five counts of hostage taking,
  • one count of conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens,
  • five counts of harboring illegal aliens,
  • one count of being an alien illegally present in the U.S.,
  • one count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens,
  • two counts of transporting illegal aliens, and
  • two counts of using and carrying a firearm in furtherance of a crime and brandishing that firearm.

The guilty verdict was returned March 7 following a two-week trial and about one hour of jury deliberation.

U.S. District Judge Gray Miller, who presided over the trial, set sentencing for June 28. At that time, Castro-Flores faces up to life in prison for each of the hostage-taking counts. He also faces up to 20 years for re-entry after deportation, and up to 10 years for each of the alien-harboring and alien-transporting counts. For the firearms charges, he also faces another seven years to life in prison, which must be served consecutively to any other prison term imposed. All the convictions also carry as possible punishment a $250,000 fine.

Already on supervised release for the 2009 alien-harboring case, he faces possible revocation of that term and up to another 10 years additional imprisonment.

The sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Casey N. MacDonald and Arthur R. Jones, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.