HOUSTON — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston — the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security that targets criminal and terrorist organizations that exploit America's travel, trade, financial and immigration systems — announced Friday its year-end statistics for fiscal year (FY) 2019.
Notable among the released stats from FY 2019 was a surge in the number of criminal arrests made and the value of counterfeit goods seized from the previous year.
A driving force behind the surge in criminal arrests was an increase of more than 265% in the number of human trafficking-related arrests. In FY 2018, HSI Houston made about 75 arrests related to human trafficking. In FY 2019, the number of human trafficking-related arrests ballooned to more than 200.
HSI Houston Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Mark Dawson attributes this significant increase to his office's partnership with the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA) in Houston, Texas. Established in 2004, HTRA is a collaboration of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and social service organization working together to combat human trafficking and assist victims.
HSI Houston also saw an increase of more than 200% in the value of counterfeit goods seized in FY 2019. In FY 2018, HSI Houston seized about $13.9 million in counterfeit goods. Last year the value of counterfeit good seized spiked to more than $28.9 million.
According to HSI Houston Assistant Special Agent in Charge Richard Halverson, the increase is attributable to the type of goods seized.
"Last year we saw an increase in the seizure of luxury counterfeit goods such as clothes and handbags due to the takedown of two major distributors," said Halverson. "This tends to drive up the overall market value of seizures that we make because they have a higher manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP). However, our primary focus is on products that affect the public's health and safety such as counterfeit auto parts, bearings, cosmetics and life-saving pharmaceuticals."
In addition to a surge in criminal arrests and counterfeit goods seized, HSI Houston was among the top five HSI offices in the country for identity and benefit fraud arrests. The success that HSI Houston enjoyed in combating identity and benefit fraud last year resulted from a yearlong investigation that disrupted one of the largest marriage fraud conspiracies ever documented in the Houston area.
HSI Houston FY 2019 Statistics: (All numbers are approximate)
- 1,615 criminal arrests,
- $28.9 million in counterfeit goods seized,
- $13.2 million in currency seizures,
- 206 human trafficking-related arrests,
- 120 child exploitation arrests,
- 26 child exploitation victims assisted,
- 84 identify and benefit fraud-related arrests,
- 436 drug smuggling-related arrests, and
- 340 gang members or associates arrested.
HSI Houston manages an area of responsibility that spans 54 counties in the state of Texas stretching from the East Texas border along the Louisiana State line to South Texas along the Texas Gulf Coast. The office is the 9th largest HSI office in the United States.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected any suspicious activity through its toll-free tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators.