Houston police searching for 'boss' in human smuggling ring after 1 arrest

Jessica Willey Image
Thursday, February 23, 2023
HPD searching for 'boss' in human smuggling ring after 1 arrest
A man has been arrested for his alleged role in a human smuggling ring in Houston, but now police are searching for the "boss," Zachary Espino.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A man wanted for aggravated kidnapping in connection to a human smuggling ring has a warrant for his arrest, according to police.

Zachary Espino, 23, faces an aggravated kidnapping charge. A co-defendant, 27-year-old Francisco Cisneros, was arrested over the weekend and charged with human smuggling.

"The allegation here is that Mr. Cisneros and co-actors told family members to pay $10,000 for smuggling," a hearing officer said in court Tuesday morning. "It's alleged Mr. Cisneros guarded the door and told family members they 'better come up with the money or bad things would happen.'"

According to court records, a witness told Houston police that his friend was being held against his will at an apartment complex on El Paseo near the Medical Center. The smugglers wanted an initial payment of $3,500 sent to a CashApp. The total payment was to be about $10,000, and the exchange was to happen at a nearby gas station on Knight Road.

Instead, patrol and SWAT officers arrested Cisneros. Investigators said they also rescued two men.

Cisneros, a Mexican national, made his first court appearance, and police issued warrants for the man known as "Flaco," court records state. Espino is believed to be Cisneros' boss in the ring and is on the run after police raided his home on Kingslake Forest, where authorities think he hid more people.

A man at the home Wednesday night said police found nothing.

Investigators believe the two suspects have smuggled a dozen people recently and, each time, threatened them and their families if they did not pay.

Cisneros' bond is $20,000. The witness told police Espino is armed.

Anyone with information on Espino's whereabouts is urged to contact Houston Police Homicide Division or Crime Stoppers.

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