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April 4, 2023Victoria, TX, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

Human smuggler sent to prison for role in deadly hostage-taking scheme following HSI Victoria-led investigation

VICTORIA, Texas — A federal judge sentenced a human smuggler April 3 to more than 12 years in prison for his role in a deadly hostage-taking scheme. The sentence follows an investigation by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston’s Victoria office and the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office.

Urbino Garcia-Bahena, a 32-year-old unlawfully present noncitizen residing in Houston, was sentenced in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to 151 months in federal prison for conspiracy to commit hostage taking. Garcia-Bahena pleaded guilty to the charges on Aug. 22, 2022. He’s expected to face removal proceedings following his release from prison.

The investigation began when authorities found a young woman deceased and discarded on the side of the road in Victoria County. In a search for those responsible, law enforcement officials discovered that Garcia-Bahena and his co-conspirators had discarded the young woman there after she died in their care. Authorities also learned they were holding and mistreating another noncitizen they had illegally smuggled into the country.

The family of the second noncitizen had paid Garcia-Bahena and his co-conspirators $10,000. However, the group refused to release him unless they were paid an additional $3,500. Once authorities were alerted, they located the second victim and rescued him. He had been held for five days without food and had been mistreated.

At the hearing, the court heard additional evidence of how Garcia-Bahena and his co-conspirators operated a stash house in Houston using threats, intimidation and starvation to hold people there.

Garcia-Bahena will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patti Hubert Booth prosecuted the case.

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

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.