According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Houston Police Department (HPD) arrested a 50-year-old Maryland man and rescued six individuals at the second suspected human smuggling stash “house,” actually an apartment, discovered in Southwest Houston in the past four days.
Officers arrested Jorge Antonio Coello Chavez, a resident of Gaithersburg, Maryland, and charged him with human smuggling and operating a stash house. Also taken into custody were five males from Ecuador and one male from Guatemala who were being held in the apartment.
A motion filed by an assistant district attorney noted that alleged victims told police that there were other alleged smugglers involved, one man and one woman, and that cell phones had been stored in a locked room. One man stated that he had paid to be transported from Ecuador to New York.
Arguing that a higher bond was needed for “the safety of the complainants and the public,” the district attorney requested a bond amount of $50,000, but Magistrate Lionel Castro authorized Coello-Chavez’s release on a personal bond of $5,000.
Coello Chavez is listed as having been born in Honduras, but initial reports indicate he is a legal resident of the United States. Court records state that a consulate was notified regarding the case and that a condition of his bond release is that he must surrender his Honduran passport within 72 hours.
Last week, Houston police responding to a call about a man running down the street in his underwear discovered 29 people held in another stash house in southwest Houston. Federal prosecutors charged a Honduran national, Mauro Dominguez-Maldonado, in that case.
Mary Magness, assistant special agent in charge of HSI Houston said in a released statement that “Houston is one of the nation’s primary hubs for stash houses and the heart of the distribution network for transporting smuggled aliens to the rest of the country.”
“Its close proximity to the border, diverse demographic makeup, and nearby access to major interstate highways make Houston an ideal staging ground.”
HSI arrested 5,570 criminals associated with human smuggling in 2019, an increase of more than 41 percent from the previous year.
There are reportedly nearly half a million illegal residents living in Harris County, and under Judge Lina Hidalgo’s initiative the county will begin providing taxpayer-funded legal services to those facing deportation this year.
Magistrate Castro has been in the news on several occasions for bonds granted. In January of 2020 prosecutors cried foul when Castro granted a registered sex offender who had violated terms of release a bond that only required a $200 payment. The following month Castro granted a third PR bond to a man with prior convictions and multiple arrests for DWI.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.