Five suspects face federal charges after police found nearly 100 undocumented migrants involved in an alleged human smuggling incident inside a residence in Houston.
Prosecutors charged Marina Garcia-Diaz, Henry Licona-Larios, Kevin Licona-Lopez, Marco Baca-Perez, and Marcelo Garcia-Palacios, all noncitizens from Central America, in connection with the case for having allegedly harbored, concealed, and shielded 97 aliens for gain, the Justice Department announced Monday.
The investigation began after a woman, who said she had paid several thousands of dollars for her brother to be smuggled into the United States, reported that he had been kidnapped, according to the Justice Department.
The smugglers allegedly demanded additional money before they would release her brother, whom they threatened to kill, and told one of the migrants he would be put in “4 pieces of wood” if they were not paid, according to the Justice Department.
Upon entering the residence, investigators found U.S. currency and ledgers containing names of the migrants, as well as human smuggling payment records, court documents alleged.
“The rooms holding the [undocumented noncitizens] had deadbolts on the door facing outside, preventing escape from the inside of the room,” the documents continued. “Multiple material witnesses identified the defendants as those conducting the smuggling operation.”
Officers were responding to a kidnapping report when they arrived at a residence in southwest Houston and found more than 90 people inside, police said Friday.
Houston Police Department Assistant Chief Daryn Edwards subsequently told reporters that investigators did not expect to encounter so many people.
“It was a big surprise when we got in the house and saw what we saw," Edwards said.
At the time, neighbors had not shared any information to indicate that anything suspicious was happening, he added.
“When they got inside the house, they realized that this is actually going to turn into a human smuggling investigation,” Edwards said of investigators.