crimesider

Five charged in Houston stash house containing 115 immigrants

HOUSTON - Five men have been charged with using guns and threats in connection with a suspected human trafficking operation involving 115 people at a house in Houston.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Brian Moskowitz told a congressional hearing in Houston Thursday the five suspects were held on offenses that included hostage taking, weapons charges and conspiracy to harbor illegal immigrants.

A tip led officers March 19 to the single-story home where they found 115 men, women and children jammed inside. Some of the people discovered in the 1,500-square-foot home were shoeless and in their underwear. All are believed to be in the U.S. illegally.

A criminal complaint filed Monday alleges the suspects conspired to detain and threaten the immigrants to extort money.

"We're not far along that we're going to release names at this point," agency spokesman Greg Palmore said. "We're still interviewing individuals and we'll follow the information where it goes.... It's nothing that's going to occur overnight."

"It's a typical stash house-type of environment," police spokesman John Cannon said Thursday. "What was atypical was the numbers of people kept inside."

Houston police, responding to a tip, went to the home in a somewhat rural area during a search for a 24-year-old woman and her two children, a 7-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy. They'd been reported missing by relatives late Tuesday evening after a man failed to meet them as planned at an undisclosed location on the city's north side, Cannon said.

Documents show the five suspects are scheduled to appear in federal court Tuesday to face charges of hostage-taking and violence with a firearm.