When Houston police pulled over a red Mustang last week they found a couple of guns and a number of papers that HPD spokesperson John Cannon said showed some illegal activity.
Soon after police, who were investigating a possible hostage-taking, made the decision to enter a residence on Alameda Schoo Road. What they found shocked them.
It was a typical immigrant smuggling stash house situation: boarded up windows, doors that locked from the inside, men in their underclothes and without shoes. What was atypical, said Cannon, was the amount of people smooshed inside the location. There were 115 people inside the house, all allegedly held against there will by at least five men who, according to court papers, threatened men and women with guns, a taser and a wooden paddle.
The people trapped inside the home told police that they had paid to cross into the U.S. but were being held until families paid transportation fees. This week, those five men accused of holding those folks, stood before a district judge on charges of extortion and smuggling.
This all started when the Houston Police department got a call March 19, from a woman who said her daughter and two grandchildren were being held in Houston for $13,000. According to court papers, the woman who had received the phone call demanding money, had earlier paid a coyote $15,000 to transport the woman and kids to Chicago. With that information authorities traced the phone numbers and were led to a location on in the 14000 block of Alameda School Road, court papers say.
While cops were staking out the place they saw four people leave the home and drive off in the Mustang. Cops pulled the car over and found two guns in the car, along with those papers. Authorities moved in on the house and saw three men run off, they were identified in court papers as the stash house guards, Jonathan Solorzano-Tavila, Antonio Barruquet-Hildiberta, and Eugenia Sesmas-Borja. The men were caught and taken into custody.
As cops went into the residence they saw several women, and men in their underwear. Police were able to find the woman and her kids.
All five men named in the alleged smuggling agreed to talk to police and told them they were undocumented Mexican citizens, court records show. Jose Manuel Aviles and Jose Cesmas-Borja were the two men driving the Mustang, according to ICE agents.
According to statements given to the authorities the home was operated like some twisted boarding house. Meals were cooked for the people and a wooden paddle was used to keep them in check. Sometimes folks were threatened with rape or with their lives if they didn't get it across to family members that they needed to pay that extra transportation fee in a timely manner.
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The suspected hired muscle told authorities they were paid from $700 a week up to $3,500 every two weeks for the duties, which included going grocery shopping, cooking, dropping people off to relatives and being general dicks to people.
Those people included one woman from El Salvador who said she paid about $7,5000 in February to a coyote to be smuggled to New York, court papers said. According to the criminal complaint, she had to cough up an extra $5,000 to continue her journey once she reached Houston.
A man from Honduras who was found in the home told ICE agents he was headed to Atlanta for $3,4000. He said he still owed $2,000 for the trip, and according to authorities, he was told by one of the men that he had a dozen days to pay off his fee, or he would get dumped on the road in a garbage bag.
The five men arrested for allegedly running this operation appeared before Magistrate Judge Frances H. Stacy this week. On Thursday they were sent back to jail and are being held without bail.