Officials bust human smuggling operation in Fort Bend County


Human smuggling has long been a deep, dark secret across the Houston area. This week, investigators shined the light on one of those operations. In this case, investigators say the undocumented immigrants were being held for ransom.

Federal agents only had cause to raid a home on Paloma Lane near Whitetail Crossing after a woman who was being held against her will escaped. Investigators say the human smuggling operation had been running through the house for at least two years.

At the end of a rural road near Needville sits a single story house surrounded by a gate with a padlock. Fort Bend Sheriff's deputies and immigration agents raided the home Wednesday, finding inside 14 people who authorities say had been brought into the country illegally.

A neighbor, who fears being identified, says she had no idea what had been happening in the home. Knowing now, she is grateful neither she nor her family was hurt.

Investigators say the suspects had guns and threatened to kill those they were allegedly holding against their will. It's not surprising neighbors were not suspicious.

"They didn't let the people they were detaining there mingle around outside," said Chief Craig Brady with the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office. "They'd bring them in under the cover of darkness, keep them inside the house, so no one knew they were there."

Investigators say the coyotes contacted their loved ones and were attempting to extort more money than they'd already paid, in exchange for their safe release.

Chief Brady explained, "The initial charge was supposed to have been $1,000, and they were wanting an additional $2,500."

In all five have been arrested, including Miguel Ramirez Rangel, 41, and Eustorgio Penaloza-Lopez, 33. Hostage taking or kidnapping charges have been filed or are pending against each in state and federal court. Those who were held inside the home were not hurt.

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