HOUSTON Five men suspected of being part of a human smuggling ring that held more than 100 people captive in a derelict Houston area home were charged with hostage-taking and firearms crimes at a federal court on Tuesday.
Jose Aviles-Villa, Jonathan Solorzano-Tavila, Antonio Barruquet-Hildiberta, Jose Cesmas-Borja, and Eugenio Sesmas-Borja were arrested last week at what immigration officials said was a "stash house," where many of the 115 captives were stripped of their shoes and most of their clothing.
A lawyer for the defendants was not immediately available to make a comment.
The five are accused of holding 99 males and 16 females hostage in a group that included 19 minors, including one 5-year-old child. The group, with people from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, was taken into custody on suspected illegal entry into the United States.
U.S. immigration officials said this was one of the largest groups of people in several years suspected of entering the country illegally discovered in a raid in the border state of Texas.
Homeland Security Special Agent Andres Garcia, Jr. said the five suspects conspired to detain individuals in the United States illegally to compel a third party to pay money to win the release of certain captives.
Authorities said they were alerted to the stash house when Houston police received a call from a woman claiming that her daughter and her two grandchildren were kidnapped.
The woman told police she paid $15,000 to smugglers to transport the three to Chicago and was told if she did not pay an additional $13,000 the three would "disappear."
The woman received a call from a suspected kidnapper that was traced back to the stash house, according to a complaint filed by Department of Homeland.
Captives said they were threatened with firearms and beatings. Their clothes and shoes were locked away to prevent them from escaping.
One captive said he was told he had 12 days to pay $2,000 or he would be beaten, placed in a black bag and dropped on the side of the road.
Houston police said the windows of the stash house were covered with plywood, and the doors had locks on them that could only be opened from outside.
Several hundred chickens were also found on the premises, which police believed were used in illegal cockfighting.
(Reporting by Amanda Orr; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Bernard Orr)