Jury Convicts Leader of Houston Hostage Taking Organization
|March 6, 2014|
HOUSTON – A federal jury in Houston has convicted Mexican national Samuel Castro-Flores, aka “Chame” or “Chamuco,” 41, on 18 counts to include conspiracy to commit hostage taking, hostage taking and other charges involving smuggling aliens and firearms, announced United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson. The verdict was returned this afternoon following a two-week trial and approximately an hour of deliberation.
The charges in the case stem from an investigation that began in mid-August 2012. Two illegal aliens had been smuggled into the country and their family members began to receive extortion calls demanding money for their release.
On Sept. 7, 2012, agents executed a search warrant at a residence on Amblewood Drive in Houston and encountered 26 illegal aliens, at least two of whom were juveniles, being held hostage inside the residence. According to the victim aliens, upon arrival in Houston they were forced to undress and informed they had been “sold” and would not be released until family members paid for their release. Victims reported they were held in their underwear, in locked rooms with boarded up windows and in deplorable conditions. The victims also indicated they were guarded by men constantly armed with a handgun. Some victims said they were threatened with harm or death if payment was not received.
The evidence at trial showed Castro-Flores was the leader of the organization which held these aliens hostage and extorted their families for thousands of dollars before their release. The evidence demonstrated Castro-Flores took extensive steps to avoid being detected by law enforcement. For example, he asked witnesses to help him present a false story that he was simply a repairman who happened to be at the Amblewood residence on one occasion to fix the air-conditioning.
An air-conditioning repair company owner in Houston reported that he once employed Castro-Flores as a helper in his business but fired him after learning he was involved in smuggling aliens. He also testified Castro-Flores later tried to use him to present a false impression to law enforcement that he was only involved in the air-conditioning business.
Prior to committing the offenses in this case, Castro-Flores was convicted of conspiracy to harbor aliens in the Southern District of Texas in July 2009 and subsequently deported in January 2011. He re-entered the United States after his deportation and was arrested in this case on Dec. 5, 2012, in Houston. Before trial, Castro-Flores pleaded guilty to illegal re-entry, one of the charges from the indictment in the current case.
He was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit hostage taking, five counts of hostage taking, one count of conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens, five counts of harboring illegal aliens, one count of being an alien illegally present in the U.S., one count of
conspiracy to transport illegal aliens, two counts of transportation of illegal aliens, as well as using and carrying a firearm in furtherance of a crime and brandishing that firearm.
U.S. District Judge Gray Miller, who presided over the trial, has set sentencing for June 28, 2014. At that time, he faces up to life in prison for each of the hostage taking counts. He also faces up to 20 years for the illegal entry after deportation and up to 10 years for each of the alien harboring and transporting counts. For the firearms charges, he will also face another seven years to life in prison, which must be served consecutively to any other prison term imposed. All the convictions also carry as possible punishment a $250,000 fine.
Already on supervised release for the 2009 alien harboring case, he faces possible revocation of that term and up to another 10 years additional imprisonment.
The investigation leading to the charges in this case was conducted by Homeland Security Investigations in Houston, Washington, D.C., and Virginia along with the Houston Police Department. Assistant United States Attorneys Casey N. MacDonald and Arthur R. Jones prosecuted the case.