HOUSTON – Five people accused of operating a stash house in Houston are now facing federal charges, according to the US Department of Justice.
Authorities discovered 97 people hidden inside the southwest Houston home on Friday in the 12200 block of Chessington Drive at South Kensington Drive.
According to the criminal complaint, Marina Garcia-Diaz, 22, Henry Licona-Larios, 31, Kevin Licona-Lopez, 25, Marco Baca-Perez 30 and Marcelo Garcia-Palacios, 21 all “harbored, concealed and shielded illegal aliens for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain.”
Investigators said they initially began looking into the case when they received a call from a woman saying 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.”
The investigation led authorities to the house where they found dozens of people being held inside two rooms of the two-story house, each of which had deadbolts on the doors that locked from the outside to prevent escape, according to the charges.
“When we got into the house we realized there were over 90 people inside. We immediately began to assess any threats and render medical care,” said Houston Police Assistant Chief Daryn Edwards said. “It was very surprising.”
Authorities only five of the people found were women and the rest were men. None were children and the oldest is in the late 30s. All of the men were in their undergarments, according to the complaint.
Police said aside from some mattresses on the wall, the inside of the house appeared to be in good shape. Houston police said they rescued people told them they had not eaten in a while.
Several of the people who were being held identified the suspects as the leaders of the smuggling operation.
If convicted, they could each face up to 10 years in federal prison.