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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Remaining 4 defendants plead guilty to hostage taking in Houston

HOUSTON - The remaining four defendants in a six-defendant case pleaded guilty on Friday to hostage taking. U.S. Attorney José Angel Moreno, Southern District of Texas, announced the guilty pleas. The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with substantial assistance provided by the Houston Police Department (HPD).

Israel Perez-Pinon, 26, Alejandro Pantoja-Rosales, 28, Edgar Ivan Guerrero, 20, and Juan Romero-Trejo, 36, all pleaded guilty March 26 before U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore. They admitted to having harbored aliens in a Houston stash house and apartment, where the aliens were kept until relatives or friends paid a fee for their release. Two other defendants charged in the same case - Heriberto Perez-Pinon, 25, and Eduardo Lopez-Vargas, 32 - previously pleaded guilty to hostage taking on March 12 and March 8.

On Aug. 21, Heriberto Perez-Pinon, Pantoja-Rosales, Lopez-Vargas and Guerrero drove to a location near El Campo, Texas, to target a load of 13 aliens being transported by another smuggler. In the effort to hijack the pickup truck in which the 13 aliens were being transported, Pantoja-Rosales fired multiple gunshots at the truck. The driver was dragged from the pickup and pistol-whipped receiving severe injuries. Pantoja-Rosales then drove off with the load of 13 aliens with the three other defendants following in separate vehicles. The smuggled aliens were taken to a Houston stash house on the 5400 block of Heron Drive, where Israel Perez-Pinon and Guerrero placed telephone calls to the aliens' relatives demanding money, paid by wire transfer, for their release.

The investigation began when a concerned citizen contacted HPD on behalf of two aliens who escaped from the hijacked load on the way to the stash house. While conversing with officers, the two aliens noticed Pantoja-Rosales and Lopez-Vargas drive-by, apparently attempting to recapture them. HPD officers then arrested Pantoja-Rosales and Lopez-Vargas. ICE agents were then led to the Heron drive stash house, where Guerrero and Israel Perez-Pinon were found guarding four aliens in a middle bedroom who had not yet been released. The electricity to the house had been turned off.

Through continued investigation, ICE agents and HPD officers discovered that the organization was harboring additional aliens at an apartment located on the 4000 block of Hollister. There, agents and officers discovered Romero-Trejo, who was arrested, and two female aliens. Heriberto Perez-Pinon was arrested the following day during a traffic stop.

The two female aliens found at the apartment, as well as a third female alien who came forward days later, claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Romero-Trejo, Heriberto Perez-Pinon and Pantoja-Rosales while being held hostage.

All the defendants, with the exception of Guerrero who is a U.S. citizen, are themselves illegal aliens. All the defendants remain in federal custody without bond.

Having pleaded to conspiracy to commit hostage taking or hostage taking, each of the defendants faces a maximum statutory penalty of life imprisonment. Lopez-Vargas is currently scheduled to be sentenced on June 28. Pantoja-Rosales, Heriberto Perez-Pinon and Israel Perez-Pinon are scheduled to be sentenced on July 6. Finally, Romero-Trejo and Guerrero will be sentenced on July 12. At the sentencing hearing, the court is expected to decide whether Heriberto Perez-Pinon, Pantoja-Rosales and Romero-Trejo should receive a sentencing enhancement for having allegedly sexually exploited female hostages.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Searle and Matt Cooper, Southern District of Texas, are prosecuting the case.