HOUSTON - Officials say five people were taken into custody after nearly 100 undocumented noncitizens were found in a home in southwest Houston.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, a 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.
The five individuals are all allegedly noncitizens of the United States residing here illegally.
"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 U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas said in a release.
Officials say the investigation began when authorities allegedly received a call from a woman reporting her brother had been kidnapped.
According to the charges, she had reportedly paid several thousand dollars for him to be smuggled into the U.S., but the smugglers had allegedly demanded additional money before they would release her brother and also threatened to kill him.
According to the complaint, the investigation led to a residence on Chessington Drive in southwest Houston where 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."
Neighbors were surprised after the discovery was made.
"We just couldn’t figure out how and why they did it," said Sylvia Les-Sie. "When it happened, I said, is this real?"
Les-Sie lives near the home on Chessington Drive. According to the concerned neighbor, she had no idea what was happening, just a few houses down the road.
"I’m glad it’s over hopefully and I’m glad everybody is back to normal," said Les-Sie. "This kind of upset the whole neighborhood."
Five of the 97 undocumented immigrants tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday. According to a spokesperson from the Houston Health Department, five others remain hospitalized and are waiting for their COVID-19 test results.
According to U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, 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.