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Oct. 29, 2012

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“Welcome to Hell” Stash House Operator Handed Prison Sentence

McALLEN, Texas – Less than six months after his initial arrest, Mexican national Marcial Salas-Gardunio, one of the operators of what has become known as the "welcome to hell" stash house, has landed in federal prison, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today.

Salas-Gardunio, 24, was arrested on May 2, 2012, following the filing of a criminal complaint. The indictment against him was returned May 15 and he pleaded guilty eight days later to conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens. 

Today, U.S. District Judge Randy Crane held the sentencing hearing, at which time Salas-Gardunio was confronted with punishment evidence and subsequently sentenced to 97 months in federal prison. The sentence included enhancements for numerous aggravating factors including placing the aliens at risk of serious bodily injury, use of a deadly weapon, causing actual bodily injury and making threats of serious bodily injury or death. Sentencing for the additional operator of the stash house, Vicente Ortiz-Soto, is set for tomorrow, Oct. 30, 2012, at 2:00 p.m. 

The sentence is the result of an investigation whereby local law enforcement officers working alongside federal authorities were sent to a residence in Edinburg on May 2, 2012, after a 911 caller indicated he was being held against his will in an alien stash house. Upon arrival at the scene, authorities discovered more than 100 undocumented aliens of various countries of origin located in three separate buildings on the property. One building was chain-locked and several undocumented aliens who were locked inside the building were later treated for injuries. Statements taken from the undocumented aliens indicated they were threatened by Salas-Gardunio and that they would be beaten or killed if they did not remain quiet. Additionally, witnesses indicated Salas-Gardunio stated "welcome to hell" when aliens arrived at the residence.

Salas-Gardunio has been in custody since his arrest where he will remain pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future. Ortiz-Soto also remains in custody.
This case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations with the assistance of Border Patrol. Assistant U.S. Attorney Cory J. H. Crenshaw prosecuted the case.