A jury has convicted an immigrant smuggler of imprisoning his customers until their families coughed up $5,000 each.
Cesar Avila, 35, was found guilty on one count of hostage-taking conspiracy, four counts of hostage taking, one count of using a firearm during a crime of violence and four counts of aiding and abetting the harboring of illegal aliens.
The U.S. Attorney's Office says the undocumented immigrants were brought into the country for a fee of $5,000, and then held at gunpoint in a windowless Houston house until their families wired another $5,000 each.
One of those imprisoned managed to call 911 last August and tell police Avila "was armed with a handgun and had threatened them with death and they were in fear of their lives," prosecutors said.
Police tracked down the location in the 100 block of Jamaica.
"Once inside the location, several people, later identified as hostages, began pointing to Avila as the hostage taker and smuggler," prosecutors said.
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The mother of one of the victims testified that she and her family had been contacted by smugglers demanding more money and threatening her son's life as well as the life of her family if the additional money was not paid. She was so frightened she contacted police who conducted surveillance to protect them. He daughter also testified that the family raised money by borrowing it from friends and sent as much money as they could via wire transfer to smugglers in Mexico.
Avila will be sentenced in October and faces life in prison.