Three Mexican men were arrested on Friday for allegedly running a drop house and assaulting the illegal immigrants they smuggled into the U.S.
The suspects, 22-year-old Francisco Javier Astorga-Velarde, 32-year-old Jose Pedro Soto Valdez, 32-year-old Noel Galdinez-Marmolejo were charged on Monday with conspiring to harbor illegal aliens.
Agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Home Land Security Investigations were first told about the drop house on Dec.5 when a woman contacted HSI Atlanta. She told them a man was demanding she pay $4,000 or he would kill her niece, who was allegedly being held hostage in a drop house in Phoenix.
Investigators say they believed the woman was being held at a home on West Highland Avenue. Special agents and Phoenix police went to the home and saw the three suspects run out the back door.
After seeing police, they say the men ran back inside but came out when agents ordered them to. The three suspects were taken into custody.
Special agents say they found 14 smuggled illegal immigrants, including the niece of the Atlanta woman, inside the house. Agents also found two 9 mm handguns inside the house.
According to officers, Astorga-Velarde is suspected to have served as the "boss" of the house. He allegedly hit two of the illegal aliens in the face with a gun and told the wife of one of the men he would kill her husband if she didn't pay his smuggling fee. He is also accused of threatening a female alien with sexual assault and of threatening to cut her into pieces and throw her in the trash.
Galdinez-Marmolejo allegedly used a gun to hit one of the male victims on the head, face, hands and feet.
Officers say Soto-Valdez is accused of beating a male victim with the guns and threatened to sexually assault, cut, kill or sell the female aliens in the house if their smuggling fees were not paid.
HSI is still investigating and the suspects may face additional charges.
HSI has encountered 35 drop houses containing 436 illegal aliens in the metropolitan Phoenix area since January.