Eight arrested in $2.3 million human smuggling operation

People were reportedly hidden in suitcases and stuffed into wooden crates or covered pickup truck beds

Court records show migrants trapped in the bed of a pickup truck in an apparent human smuggling case. (US Department of Justice)

HOUSTON – The Department of Justice announced the arrests of eight people in a $2.3 million human smuggling operation across four states, including Texas, on Tuesday. Court documents show the migrants paid the smugglers roughly $8,000 to get to the United States from Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico.

According to the indictment, the human smuggling organization used drivers to pick up migrants near the southern border and took them to cities like Austin and San Antonio. The migrants were reportedly hidden in suitcases placed in pickup trucks or crammed into the back of tractor-trailers, covered beds of pickup trucks, repurposed water tankers or wooden crates strapped to flatbed trailers. Records indicate, “they were frequently held in locked spaces with little ventilation, which became overheated, and they were driven at high speeds with no vehicle safety devices.”

Court records show migrants trapped in wooden boxes in an apparent human smuggling case. (US Department of Justice)

Erminia Serrano Piedra, Daniel Number, Laura Number, Lloyd Bexley, Jeremy Dickens, Katie Ann Garcia, Oliveria Piedra-Campuzana, and Pedro Hairo Abrigo were all arrested on federal human trafficking charges.

“Over a year ago, we launched Joint Task Force Alpha to strengthen our efforts across government to dismantle the most dangerous human smuggling and trafficking networks,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The charges announced today are just the latest example of these efforts’ success. The Justice Department will continue to bring our full resources to bear to combat the human smuggling and trafficking groups that endanger our communities, abuse and exploit migrants, and threaten our national security.”

Court records show migrants trapped in the bed of a trailer in an apparent human smuggling case. (US Department of Justice)

“Sadly, this case is an example of what we see in our district, too many times, especially in our border communities,” said U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery for the Southern District of Texas. “No amount of money should be a substitute for human life.”

Federal authorities said Piedra was the mastermind of the multistate human smuggling operation. She is expected in Federal Court on September 14.


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