latimes.com, Associated Press, Feb. 12
PERRIS, Calif. — More than 60 illegal immigrants held for ransom by smugglers were found crammed into a small Riverside County home Wednesday after one immigrant escaped and told authorities, officials said.
Three alleged smugglers also discovered at the home were taken into custody and could face state and federal charges, said Senior Patrol Agent Richard Kite, a spokesman for the U.S. Border Patrol.
The 64 men and women, from Mexico and other Central American countries, were found in a 900-square-foot home in a rural area between Riverside and Perris.
“The interior of that house was in deplorable condition,” said Cpl. Dennis Gutierrez, a spokesman for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. “You can just imagine 64 people stuffed in a 900-square-foot home [with] no food, little water.”
Authorities believe that the immigrants were held captive until families or friends could pay for their release, Gutierrez said. Wrought-iron bars covered the home’s windows, he said.
“It appears these 64 were part of an elaborate alien smuggling operation,” Kite said.
The discovery came after a man escaped from the house and alerted a sheriff’s deputy about 2:30 p.m. of “coyotes,” or smugglers, holding him and others against their will, Gutierrez said.
Border Patrol agents assisted by sheriff’s officials later raided the home, he said.
No major injuries were reported.