HOUSTON (CN) – A 35-year-old Honduran faces life in federal prison after a jury found him guilty of holding illegal immigrants hostage, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
After a 3-day trial, Cesar Avila, an undocumented immigrant, was convicted of hostage-taking conspiracy, four counts of hostage-taking, using a firearm during a violent crime and four counts of aiding and abetting harboring of illegal aliens, federal prosecutors said in a statement.
Authorities were tipped off by a 911 call from a man who said he was being held by alien smugglers against his will at a Houston home.
“He claimed Avila was armed with a handgun and had threatened them with death and they were in fear of their lives,” prosecutors said.
Law enforcement officials found the home, which had no windows, French doors covered with foil, and several hostages inside. They identified Avila as their abductor and smuggler.
Officers found a handgun and ledger with payment details for a human smuggling operation under a mattress, prosecutors said.
“One of the victims advised officers he had been in the Houston area for approximately eight days and had been moved around from house to house in the Houston area with five other aliens,” prosecutors said in the statement. “He admitted he was in the country illegally and that he had paid smugglers $5,000 to smuggle him into the United States.
“He identified Avila as the subject who was holding him, was constantly armed with the handgun and had threatened to kill him if he tried to escape. Further testimony revealed that the smugglers were threatening to kill him if his family did not pay an additional $5,000.
“The mother of one of the victims testified that she and her family had been contacted by smugglers demanding more money and threatening her son’s life as well as the life of her family if the additional money was not paid.
“She was so frightened she contacted police, who conducted surveillance to protect them. Her daughter also testified that the family raised money by borrowing it from friends and sent as much money as they could via wire transfer to smugglers in Mexico.”
Avila faces up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine at his Oct. 9 sentencing.