Three human smugglers sentenced to prison

October 14, 2011 1:09:16 PM PDT
Three Houstonians have been sentenced to prison for running a human smuggling operation and forcing their victims to distribute pirated CDs and DVDs to pay off their debt.

Estela Aguilar-Lopez, 59, Blanca Estela Lopez-Aguilar, 37, Francisco Ivan Rodriguez-Garcia, 35, were sentenced Thursday to 46, 50 and 57 months in federal prison, respectively, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. All three defendants had pleaded guilty on April 22 to conspiring to force labor and conspiring to distribute pirated CDs and DVDs.

Detectives say they launched an investigation in 2010 after someone informed them that illegal immigrants were being held against their will at a home in the 10000 block of Woodico Court in north Houston. When deputies arrived, they spoke to two women who turned out to be victims of human trafficking.

During the investigation, investigators determined that Aguilar-Lopez, Lopez-Aguilar and Rodriguez-Garcia, among others, were recruiting illegal aliens from Mexico to the United States. The illegal immigrants would then have to pay off their debt by selling pirated CDs and DVDs in apartment complexes.

According to the superseding indictment, the victims were forced to live with the traffickers and if they did not pay their debts, they were assaulted, threatened with violence and intimidated via threatening phone calls made to family members in Mexico.

All three convicts have remained in custody without bond since their arrest on August 30. They will remain in custody pending transfer to a Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

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