Third human smuggler sentenced to prison for operating Houston stash house ring
HOUSTON – A Houston resident was sentenced to federal prison Thursday for operating a massive human smuggling operation using locked and boarded-up trailers throughout the Houston area as stash houses. Two Mexican nationals who were co-conspirators in the smuggling operation were previously sentenced.
This investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Houston, Texas.
Rene Camacho, a 47-year-old U.S. citizen residing in Houston, was sentenced July 23 in the Southern District of Texas to three years in federal prison to be immediately followed by two years of supervised release for conspiracy to transport and harbor illegal aliens.
Camacho joins, Albino Vargas-Hernandez, 49, and Hiram Lamarca-Gonzalez, 22, both Mexican nationals illegally present in the U.S., who were previously sentenced for conspiracy to transport and harbor illegal aliens. Vargas-Hernandez was sentenced on April 30 to 42 months in federal prison to be immediately followed by three years of supervised release. Lamarca-Gonzalez was sentenced on March 19 to 3 years in federal prison to be immediately followed by two years of supervised release.
Camacho and Vargas-Hernandez pleaded guilty to the charges on Dec. 12, 2019. Lamarca-Gonzalez entered his guilty plea on Dec. 4, 2019.
The investigation revealed that from July 2018 through August 2018 multiple suspected aliens had arrived and departed trailers in Houston, which were locked and had boards on the windows. On several occasions, Vargas-Hernandez left his residence, picked up illegal aliens from the stash house and delivered them to others.
Law enforcement obtained search warrants on the Vargas-Hernandez residence as well as the stash houses. During that time, authorities found Vargas-Hernandez and Camacho inside one of the trailers along with 12 unlawfully present aliens. The aliens identified Vargas-Hernandez and Camacho as leaders of the smuggling organization, in charge of documenting alien information in ledgers and collecting payments for the aliens smuggled into the country. They also recovered multiple firearms, “pollo” lists (alien smuggling ledgers keeping track of alien and payment information), money service wire receipts and approximately $224,000 in cash.
At the hearings, the court heard evidence regarding the extensive nature of the smuggling venture which included multiple drivers to smuggle aliens, money transmitters and smuggling ledgers documenting more than $1.4 million in smuggling proceeds.
At Camacho’s sentencing, the court also received evidence about a residence in North Houston purchased using $130,000 in proceeds from the conspiracy. U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett ordered the residence forfeited to the United States. Previous forfeitures include $224,774.86 in cash and cashier’s checks.
“These three individuals operated a vast human smuggling network that preyed on the desperation of foreign nationals hoping to get into the United States,” said Mark Dawson, special agent in charge of HSI Houston. “In just the last year, they are responsible for smuggling more than 1,000 people into the country. With today’s sentencing, we have sent a resounding message that HSI is committed to aggressively target human smugglers and smuggling organizations who seek to undermine our nation’s immigration laws and victimize people for profit.”
Vargas-Hernandez and Lamarca-Gonzalez have been and will remain in custody. Camacho was permitted to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.
Following their incarceration, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) will seek to take custody of Vargas-Hernandez and Lamarca-Gonzalez to place them in removal proceedings.
Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) Richard Bennett prosecuted the case. AUSA Stephanie Bauman handled the forfeiture matters.