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March 26, 2010

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(HOUSTON) - The remaining four defendants in a six-defendant case have pleaded guilty to hostage taking, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today.   

Israel Perez-Pinon, 26, Alejandro Pantoja-Rosales, 28, Edgar Ivan Guerrero, 20, and Juan Romero-Trejo, 36, all pleaded guilty this morning before U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore admitting to having harbored aliens in a Houston stash house and apartment, where the aliens were kept until relatives or friends paid a fee for their release. Two other defendants charged in the same case - Heriberto Perez-Pinon, 25, and Eduardo Lopez-Vargas, 32 - previously pleaded guilty to hostage taking on March 12 and March 8, respectively.

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 dragged the driver from the pickup and the driver 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 conversing with officers, the two aliens noticed Pantoja-Rosales and Lopez-Vargas drive-by, apparently attempting to recapture them. HPD officers then arrested Pantoja-Rosales and Lopez-Vargas. Officers and agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were then led to the Heron drive stash house, where Guerrero and Israel Perez-Pinon were found guarding four aliens discovered in a middle bedroom who had not yet been released. The electricity to the house had been turned off.

Through continued investigation, ICE 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, claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Romero-Trejo, Heriberto Perez-Pinon and Pantoja-Rosales while being held hostage.   

All of the defendants, with the exception of Guerrero who is a U.S. citizen, are themselves undocumented aliens. All of the defendants remain in federal custody without bond.

Having pleaded to conspiracy to commit hostage taking or hostage taking, each of the defendants faces a maximum statutory penalty of life imprisonment. Lopez-Vargas is currently scheduled to be sentenced on June 28, 2010. Pantoja-Rosales, Heriberto Perez-Pinon and Israel Perez-Pinon are scheduled to be sentenced on July 6, 2010. Finally, Romero-Trejo and Guerrero will be sentenced on July 12, 2010. At the sentencing hearing, the court is expected to decide whether Heriberto Perez-Pinon, Pantoja-Rosales and Romero-Trejo should receive a sentencing enhancement for having allegedly sexually exploited female hostages.

The case was investigated by ICE with the substantial assistance of HPD. Assistant United States Attorneys David Searle and Matt Cooper are prosecuting the case.


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