Jose Angel Moreno, United States Attorney
Southern District of Texas
Three Mexican nationals, two women and a man, illegally in the United States have been indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly conspiring to force labor and harboring undocumented aliens, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today.
A Houston grand jury returned a two-count indictment yesterday, Nov. 17, 2010, accusing Estela Aguilar-Lopez, 47, Blanca Estela Lopez-Aguilar, 37, and Francisco Ivan Rodriguez-Garcia, 29, of conspiracy to force labor and conspiracy to harbor undocumented aliens. All three defendants have been in federal custody since their Sept. 1, 2010, arrest on charges filed by criminal complaint and have remained in custody without bond per court order. The court has ordered that the defendants be provided with notice of the return of the indictment and a date for arraignment on the charges will be set by the court in the near future.
According to allegations in a criminal complaint which accused these defendants of harboring illegal aliens, the FBI received information in late August 2010 that undocumented aliens were being held against their will at a residence located on the 10000 block of Woodico Ct. in Houston. The investigation initiated following the tip resulted in the filing of a criminal complaint on Aug. 31, 2010, alleging the defendants conspired together to harbor undocumented aliens smuggled into the United States who then sold pirated compact discs (CDs) and digital video discs (DVDs) at Houston area apartment complexes provided by at least one defendant to pay smuggling fees of approximately $2200.
The indictment returned today alleges that beginning in December 2006 through August 2010, the three defendants conspired together to recruit undocumented aliens from Mexico to travel to the United States with the expectation of receiving jobs and would pay the smuggling fees of those recruited, then require the smuggled aliens to live with them and to repay the smuggling fees by forcing them to sell counterfeit CDs and DVDs. Additionally, the indictment alleges the defendants abused the undocumented aliens verbally and physically and used threats of force and force to compel the service of the undocumented aliens until their debts were paid.
The undocumented aliens, who are material witnesses in the case, will remain in the United States and receive assistance services during that stay pending trial of this case.
A conviction for a conspiring to force labor carries a carries a maximum prison term of 20 years imprisonment and/or $250,000 fine. Conspiracy to harbor undocumented aliens carries a maximum prison term of 10 years imprisonment and/or $250,000 fine.
A fourth defendant originally charged in the complaint, Flora Lopez-Mata, 30, also a Mexican national illegally in the United States, has been charged separately by criminal information with the misdemeanor offense of illegally entering the United States.
This matter was investigated by the FBI, Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations, Department of State - Diplomatic Security Service and the Texas Attorney General’s Office as part of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA).
The HTRA was formed by the United States Attorney’s office in Houston as part of a broader effort by the Department of Justice to concentrate resources from its Civil Rights Division, our own office, federal, state law and local enforcement agencies and non-governmental service organizations to target human traffickers while providing necessary services to those victimized by the traffickers. The Houston HTRA was the 5th of 42 such formed organizations and the first of its kind in Texas. The mission of the HTRA is to foster the collaboration of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies with area social service organizations to identify and assist the victims of human trafficking and to effectively identify, apprehend and prosecute those engaged in trafficking offenses.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Ruben Perez, Joe Magliolo and Kebharu H. Smith.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.
A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.
Angela Dodge, Public Affairs Officer
U.S. Attorney's Office
Southern District of Texas