Officials: Friona woman charged with federal crime after holding 17 immigrants hostage
FRIONA, Texas (KFDA) - U.S. officials said a Friona woman was charged with a federal crime after police said she was holding 17 immigrants hostage.
The U.S. Department of Justice said 30-year-old Manuela Magdalena Jimon Castro was charged with a criminal complaint with alien harboring.
Castro made her first appearance today in court.
The complaint said Castro and a family member partnered with an illegal immigrant smuggling operation to hold undocumented hostages at their home in Friona.
The hostages were threatened to be deprived of food and water. They also were not allowed to leave until they paid $11,000 to $12,000 or “worked off” the debt.
The investigation began when California police received a tip from a woman who said her sister was being held for ransom in Texas.
The woman said her sister had traveled from Guatemala to Mexico with the intention of seeking asylum in the U.S.
The sister crossed the border and was captured by a Mexican cartel, where she was held captive.
The sister sent a pin of her location in Friona before escaping.
An interview with the police revealed that while in Mexico, she was forced into a car at gunpoint by people she believed to be members of a smuggling cartel, the complaint said.
After several months, they walked her across the southern border, took her to different houses in Texas and New Mexico and refused to let her go until she paid off her debt.
She then was sent to the Friona home, where she was told she would be detained until she paid $12,000.
After the interview, police searched the home and recovered 17 undocumented immigrants, including two children.
The criminal complaint said the 17 people tried to hide in the attic, in cupboards or inside totes covered in blankets.
The home had very little furniture, except for mattresses and blankets for a large group of people across the floor.
Further interviews with the victims revealed that they had entered the country illegally with smugglers.
They said the smugglers had confiscated their phones and only allowed intermittent contact with family members in order to get money to pay for their “entrance fees,” the complaint shows.
Some of the victims said they believed they had to stay at the home in Friona until their entrance fee was fully paid.
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas said a criminal complaint is an allegation of criminal conduct and not evidence. Because of this, the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
If convicted, she faces up to five years in federal prison.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Dallas, Los Angeles Field Office, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Fiona Police Department, and the Thousand Oaks Police Department in California conducted the investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Callie Woolam is prosecuting the case.
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