A 2-year investigation has resulted in the indictments of 29 people and 86 criminal charges relating to a cartel connected-human smuggling operation in South Texas.
The investigation which began in Atascosa County, Texas, tied in a suspected human smuggling operation that stretched from the border to as far as San Antonio and Houston. Atascosa County, located around the town of Pleasanton about 40 miles south of San Antonio, became the focal point of the investigation as authorities uncovered a stash house where up to 250 illegal immigrants per month were being smuggled, information provided to Breitbart Texas by Atascosa County District Attorney René M. Peña revealed.
“What we have today is the result of a two-year investigation that has now resulted in the indictments of 29 individuals,” Peña told Breitbart Texas in a telephone interview on Friday. “Eighty-six charges have been filed against these people. Additionally, during the arrest process four additional people have been arrested and charged with participating in an organized criminal activity.”
Peña said they are still holding some information close as there are some suspects still at large. “We hope to catch them quickly,” he explained. “The scope of our investigation was in Atascosa County and our neighboring Wilson County. The smuggling lines stretched as far as Harris and Bexar Counties.”
Without going into details, Peña told Breitbart Texas there was at least one minor involved as a victim. He also disclosed that charges of sexual assault have been filed against at least one person in the organization.
“We are sure there is cartel involvement.” Peña explained. “This is a huge profit item for them. As long as the demand side keeps asking for cheap labor, slave labor or sex slaves, these cartels will keep supplying the product.”
“Clearly it is an impact on this community,” Texas Department of Public Safety Director, Colonel Steve McCraw said in a written statement. “Clearly it is an impact on Houston and San Antonio where the smuggling and the trafficking was occurring, so it’s one piece of many, many organized crime entities operating out there. But this clearly was a successful investigation.”
Those arrested in the raid include some of the organizers of the conspiracy. Charges against the individuals include engaging in organized criminal activity, human trafficking, human smuggling, money laundering and sexual assault, Peña disclosed.
Peña said the trafficking effort began in the Rio Grande Valley where smugglers would bring their human cargo northward up either Highway 77 through Riviera and Kingsville or via Highway 281 through Falfurrias and Alice. “The smugglers would monitor law enforcement activities along the routes to determine the most secure pathway for their operations,” Peña stated.
Minors as young as 13 have been forced into prostitution by the group, Peña told the San Antonio Express News.
District Attorney Peña has been involved in this issue for many years. In 2009, he brought the issue to then Governor Rick Perry and helped form the Border Prosecution Unit to help bring more resources to the local district attorneys’ offices that are often strapped for both manpower and funding to go after these complex cases. The 84th Texas Legislature in 2015 provided additional resources to this unit.
Since that time, Peña has been instrumental in creating a statewide Human Trafficking Initiative. “We noticed we were not getting many trafficking cases and decided training was the answer,” Peña explained. He said they started training DPS troopers on how to recognize possible trafficking victims. In July 2014, Breitbart Texas reported on then Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s announcement of the publication of a “Human Trafficking Prevention Manual” that became a tool for education professionals with resources to identify trafficking victims they might encounter.
Earlier this year, Breitbart Texas’ Lana Shadwick reported on a partnership between the Texas Attorney General’s Office and truckers driving on our highways. The program created an awareness program and established a toll free hotline, 888-373-7888, where truckers or others witnessing suspicious activity can contact authorities to report their suspicions.
Peña told Breitbart Texas that shortly after these training initiatives began, cases began appearing. “In one case a trooper who had recently completed the human trafficking program became suspicious of a man travelling with a 15-year-old girl in Frio County,” Peña said. “He followed up on his instincts and training and soon arrested the man for providing alcohol to the young girl. He was later charged with human trafficking.” Since that time, Peña said that 14 little girls have been rescued.
Peña said more information will be disclosed once all of the suspects are arrested.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated.