*4 held in girl's ransom, raid that freed other immigrants*

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*4 held in girl's ransom, raid that freed other immigrants*

Ironically, the "meeting place" is less than a mile from my house.

4 held in girl's ransom, raid that freed other immigrants
Houston Chronicle Tuesday, September 25, 2012 | Updated: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 7:54am

Four smuggling suspects were arrested in connection with the ransom of a 17-year-old Nicaraguan girl and a related raid last week that netted more than 80 suspected illegal immigrants, authorities said.

A criminal complaint charges Luis Trejo-Onofre, 30, Jose Santos-Solorzano, 24, Jose Victor Perez-Olivas, 42, and Gumecindo Jaime-Martinez, 37, with harboring, transporting and conspiracy to harbor and transport illegal immigrants, records show. The men, all Mexican citizens, are scheduled to appear in federal court Wednesday.

The investigation started on Sept. 18 after a woman flagged down a Houston police officer and reported that her teenage daughter was being held by a smuggling organization in Houston.

The woman said she had paid more than $6,000 to have her daughter smuggled into the United States from Nicaragua. The smugglers were demanding $1,700 more and sent the teen's mother a text message saying: "if she wanted to see her daughter again, she better deposit the money," according to the federal criminal complaint.

The complaint said undercover agents agreed to meet the smugglers in the parking lot of a CVS store at Gessner and Interstate 10. The smugglers arrived in the parking lot in a Ford Expedition with the teenager, but they tried to escape as law enforcement closed in on them, ramming one of the government vehicles.

The agents arrested two suspects, Onofre and Santos-Solorzano, in the parking lot, according to court records. They also rescued the 17-year-old, who reported that other illegal immigrants. including children, were being held by armed men in a house in the 3400 block of Boxelder Drive in southwest Houston, records show.

Agents set up surveillance and eventually forced their way into the house and arrested Perez-Olivas and Jaime-Marinez.

Authorities rounded up 82 suspected illegal immigrants from six countries, including eight juveniles. Most of those held in the house were clad only in their underwear, a tactic smugglers often use to discourage people from escaping. Authorities also seized several weapons.

Some of the immigrants reported that the smugglers told them not to cause any problems or they would be locked in a closet and fed only once a day, according to the criminal complaint. They also reported that the smugglers hit people who refused to comply with their commands and forced them into closets, the court filing states.

Perez-Olivas told federal officials he was approached by a friend at the Bravo Nightclub on Gessner Road and asked to work for the smuggling organization. He said he initially refused but accepted after he could find no other work, according to the complaint.

Perez Olivas denied knowing who paid him and said he knew his employer only as Juan.

If convicted, each man faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, authorities said. The immigrants found in the house were detained, and those here illegally will be deported.