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May 4, 2023Houston, TX, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

Houston stash house operator who held 97 noncitizens captive sentenced to 41 months in prison

HOUSTON — An unlawfully present Honduran national was sentenced May 2 to 41 months in federal prison for operating a stash house in southwest Houston where officials found 97 captive noncitizens in April 2021. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston conducted the investigation that led to the conviction.

Henry Licona-Larios, a 34-year-old unlawfully present Honduran national, was sentenced in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to 41 months in prison for conspiracy to harbor unlawfully present noncitizens. Licona-Larios pleaded guilty to the charges on May 24, 2022. He is expected to be placed into removal proceedings following his incarceration.

The investigation began April 30, 2021, when authorities learned of a kidnapping. A woman reported that she had paid smugglers several thousand dollars to bring her brother into the country. However, the smugglers demanded money to release him and threatened to harm him if the money was not paid.

The investigation led to a residence in southwest Houston where authorities found 97 unlawfully present noncitizens crammed in two small rooms of a stash house. Law enforcement found outside-facing deadbolts on the doors. All the men were kept in their undergarments to prevent escape. One of the noncitizens being held in the stash house was told if the money was not paid, he would be put in “4 pieces of wood.”

During the hearing, the court heard evidence that detailed the stash house’s inhumane conditions. The court also heard that Licona-Larios was connected to an additional stash house discovered in December 2020.

In handing down the sentence, the court noted the seriousness of the offense and Licona-Larios’ verbal and physical mistreatment of the undocumented noncitizens.

Four other unlawfully present human smugglers were previously convicted and sentenced for their roles in the conspiracy including Marcelo Garcia-Palacios, 23, Mexico; Kevin Licona-Lopez, 27, Honduras; and Marco Baca-Perez, 22, Mexico, who were all sentenced to 30 months in federal prison; and Marina Garcia-Diaz, 24, El Salvador, who was sentenced to 27 months. All four are expected to be placed into removal proceedings following their incarceration.

All five individuals have been and will remain in custody.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen M. Lansden prosecuted the case.

For more news and information on HSI Houston’s efforts to investigate human smuggling in Southeast Texas, follow us on Twitter @HSIHouston.