A gun and ransom money in the vehicle of an alleged smuggler during a federal bust last week in Albuquerque. (APD)
An Arizona woman told authorities last week that smugglers who she paid $30,000 to bring her sister and young nieces into the country were now holding the trio hostage in Albuquerque.
The case led federal Homeland Security Investigations agents to a couple of alleged smugglers holding the family along with 58 other migrants at a small home in Southeast Albuquerque.Marcelo Alonso-Almaraz, 32, and Eloisa Almaraz-Vasquez, 35 — who are reportedly undocumented citizens themselves — are charged in federal court with bringing in and harboring certain aliens and hostage taking. Alonso-Almaraz is facing an additional charge of alien in possession of a firearm.Alonso-Almaraz and Almaraz-Vasquez are reportedly married, according to court records. Their attorneys could not be reached Wednesday.The Albuquerque Police Department, who assisted HSI in the case, said on Twitter that $47,000 was also seized from the couple.

Francisco Burrola, HSI El Paso Special Agent in Charge, called human smuggling a “multi-billion-dollar enterprise” in a release.

“The individuals being smuggled are viewed as cargo by the transnational criminal organizations, whose nefarious activities demonstrate a total disregard for both our laws and for human life,” he said.

According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court:

On Nov. 2, a woman in Phoenix reported her sister and nieces, ages 5 and 9, were being held for ransom by smugglers in Albuquerque. The woman said she already paid $30,000 and the smugglers wanted $6,000 more and sent a video of the family as “proof of life.”

Agents traced the smuggler’s phone number to Almaraz-Vasquez, who had a listed apartment in the 500 block of Palomas SE, south of Zuni. Authorities saw people and belongings being loaded from a vehicle into the apartment.

At that point, the smuggler “sounded intoxicated and became more combative” as he demanded money for the family’s safe release. An undercover agent pretended to be a relative willing to pay the ransom and lured the smugglers — identified as Alonso-Almaraz and Almaraz-Vasquez — to a parking lot off Interstate 40.

They also detained eight migrants in another vehicle seen leaving the apartment and found 50 more migrants, including an infant, tightly packed into the apartment. The mother told agents the smugglers held her and her children along with up to 100 others at gunpoint inside the apartment for four days.

She said they were “not well fed or cared for” and her children were traumatized from Alonso-Almaraz waving a gun around and striking people with it, threatening to kill them. The woman told agents the smugglers were constantly yelling to “shut the baby up” and to cover the infant’s mouth when it cried.

The bust came less than two months after federal authorities raided an alleged migrant stash house on Albuquerque’s West Side, finding 29 migrants, drugs and guns on the property.