Federal charges filed against operators of Houston stash house
HOUSTON (STL.News) Five individuals in the United States illegally have been taken into custody following the discovery of nearly 100 undocumented aliens in a suburban Houston residence, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.
The criminal complaint charges Marina Garcia-Diaz, 22, El Salvador; Henry Licona-Larios, 31, Copan, Honduras; Kevin Licona-Lopez, 25, Santa Barbara, Honduras; Marco Baca-Perez 30, Michoacan, Mexico; and Marcelo Garcia-Palacios, 21, Oaxaca, Mexico. All are noncitizens of the United States residing here illegally. They are expected to make their initial appearances before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christina Bryan at 2 p.m. today.
The criminal complaint, filed Saturday, alleges all five harbored, concealed and shielded illegal aliens for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain.
The investigation began after authorities allegedly received a call from a woman reporting her brother had been kidnapped. She had paid several thousand dollars for him to be smuggled into the United States, according to the charges. However, the smugglers had allegedly demanded additional money before they would release her brother. They also threatened to kill him, according to the charges.
The investigation led to a residence on Chessington Drive in Southwest Houston, according to the complaint. Authorities ultimately found 97 undocumented noncitizens allegedly being held in two rooms of the residence. The charges allege the rooms had deadbolts on the doors facing the outside which prevented escape.
All of the male individuals were in their undergarments, according to the complaint.
The charges also allege at least one was told if the money was not paid, he would be put in “4 pieces of wood.”
Several of the held individuals allegedly identified Garcia-Diaz, Licona-Larios, Licona-Lopez, Baca-Perez and Garcia-Palacios as those conducting the smuggling operation.
If convicted, each faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a possible $250,000 maximum.
Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation with the assistance of the Houston Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen M. Lansden is prosecuting the case.
A criminal complaint is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.
A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.