Five people have been charged after 97 migrants were found in a Houston house Friday in what authorities think is a smuggling operation, federal prosecutors said Monday.
All five charged by criminal complaint Saturday are living in the county illegally, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas said. They are from Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras.
On Friday, Houston police were investigating a report of a possible kidnapping and found 97 people, none of whom have authorization to be in the U.S., inside the two-story home, officials said.
They were in two rooms, and there were deadbolts on the doors to prevent escape, federal prosecutors said.
Marina Garcia-Diaz, 22; Henry Licona-Larios, 31; Kevin Licona-Lopez, 25; Marco Baca-Perez, 30; and Marcelo Garcia-Palacios, 21, face one count each of harboring migrants into the United States, according to online court records. They are all in custody.
The home where they were kept was described in court documents as a “stash house.”
A person who called Houston police and reported a kidnapping Friday said they paid $11,000 to have a relative smuggled into the U.S. from Honduras, but then was told to pay thousands more to have the relative released, according to a criminal complaint.
That person was told that if they did not pay, the relative would be killed, according to the complaint, and the person called Houston police.
At least one person inside the home was told if money was not paid, he would be out in “four pieces of wood,” meaning a coffin, according to court documents.
Attorneys listed as representing those charged either did not immediately return requests for comment Monday night or declined to comment.