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Jan. 9, 2012

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Lead Defendant in Hostage Taking Case Lands in Federal Prison for Nearly 25 Years

HOUSTON – Heriberto Perez-Pinon, 26, of Houston, has been sentenced to federal prison for holding smuggled aliens hostage for ransom payments, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today. 

U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore sentenced Perez-Pinon to 292 months imprisonment today. Perez-Pinon pleaded guilty shortly before trial on March 12, 2010, to one count of hostage taking at which time he admitted to transporting a load of smuggled aliens from south Texas to a Houston stash house where the aliens were kept until relatives or friends paid a fee for their release. Five other defendants, Alejandro Pantoja-Rosales, 29, Juan Romero-Trejo, 36, Israel Perez-Pinon, 28, Edgar Ivan Guerrero, 22, and Eduardo Lopez-Vargas, 34, also pleaded guilty in the case to hostage taking or conspiracy to commit hostage taking and have been sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from 150 to 262 months. As the supervisor of the operation, Heriberto Perez-Pinion received the longest sentence. 

On Aug. 21, 2009, Perez-Pinon and 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 Heriberto Perez-Pinion, Romero-Trejo and Pantoja-Rosales.   

Previously, on April 25, 2011, Pantoja-Rosales and Romero-Trejo were sentenced following a lengthy hearing during which one of the female illegal aliens who was held hostage for upwards of two weeks testified. The woman described how Heriberto Perez-Pinion, 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 presented 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 Romero-Trejo.  As with the other two defendants, Heriberto Perez-Pinion denied sexually assaulting the women, claiming that the intercourse was consensual.   

All of the defendants, with the exception of Guerrero who is a U.S. citizen, are themselves undocumented aliens who will be deported following their release from federal prison. 

The case was investigated by ICE-HSI with the assistance of HPD. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney David Searle.