Alejandro Pantoja-Rosales, 29, and Juan Romero-Trejo, 36, both of Houston, have been sentenced to federal prison for holding smuggled aliens hostage for ransom payments, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today.
U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore sentenced Pantoja-Rosales to 262 months imprisonment, while Romero-Trejo received 240 months. Pantoja-Rosales and Romero-Trejo pleaded guilty on March 26, 2010, to one count of hostage taking and conspiracy to commit hostage taking, respectively.
Both defendants admitted to harboring aliens in a Houston stash house and apartment where the aliens were kept until relatives or friends paid a fee for their release. Four other defendants, Heriberto Perez-Pinon, 26, Israel Perez-Pinon, 27, Edgar Ivan Guerrero, 21, and Eduardo Lopez-Vargas, 33, have also pleaded guilty in the case to hostage taking or conspiracy to commit hostage taking.
On Aug. 21, 2009, Heriberto Perez-Pinon, Pantoja-Rosales, Lopez-Vargas and Guerrero drove to a location near El Campo, Texas, in order to target a load of 13 aliens being transported by another smuggler. In the effort to hijack the pickup truck in which the 13 aliens were being transported, Pantoja-Rosales fired multiple gunshots at the truck. The defendants then dragged the driver from the pickup who was pistol-whipped until he was severely injured. Pantoja-Rosales then drove off with the load of 13 aliens with the three other defendants following in separate vehicles. The smuggled aliens were taken to a Houston stash house on the 5400 block of Heron Drive, where Israel Perez-Pinon and Guerrero placed telephone calls to the aliens’ relatives demanding money, paid by wire transfer, for their release.
The investigation leading to the arrest and filing of criminal charges began when a concerned citizen contacted the Houston Police Department (HPD) on behalf of two aliens who escaped from the load on the way to the stash house. While talking with officers, the two aliens noticed Pantoja-Rosales and Lopez-Vargas drive-by, apparently attempting to recapture them. HPD officers arrested Pantoja-Rosales and Lopez-Vargas. Officers and agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) were then led to the stash house on Heron Drive, where Guerrero and Israel Perez-Pinon were found guarding four aliens in a middle bedroom who had not yet been released. The electricity to the house had been turned off.
ICE-HSI agents and HPD officers learned of the possibility that the organization was harboring additional aliens at an apartment located on the 4000 block of Hollister. There, agents and officers discovered Romero-Trejo, who was arrested, and two female aliens. Heriberto Perez-Pinon was arrested the following day during a traffic stop.
The two female aliens found at the apartment, as well as a third female alien who came forward days later, stated that they had been sexually assaulted by Romero-Trejo and Pantoja-Rosales.
Today, Pantoja-Rosales’ and Romero-Trejo’s sentences were pronounced following a lengthy sentencing hearing during which one of the female illegal aliens who was held hostage for upwards of two weeks testified. The woman described how Pantoja-Rosales and Romero-Trejo sexually assaulted her and two other female aliens on multiple occasions while awaiting ransom payments from the womens’ families. Also stated in court today was information regarding a rape kit examination following the testifying woman’s rescue by immigration agents which revealed the presence of DNA that was later linked to defendant Romero-Trejo.
All of the defendants, with the exception of Guerrero who is a U.S. citizen, are themselves undocumented aliens.
Already sentenced in the case was Guerrero, who received a 210-month term of imprisonment on April 18, 2011. Israel Perez-Pinion is scheduled for sentencing on May 9, 2011, while Lopez-Vargas is set for June 6, 2011. Heriberto Perez-Pinon, the believed leader of the conspiracy, will be sentenced on June 6, 2011.
The case was investigated by ICE-HSI with the assistance of HPD. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney David Searle.